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Monday, April 4, 2016

Is America and its Media Becoming Fascist? / Is America Already a Fascist State?

Is America Becoming Fascist?

Since mainstream left-liberal media do not seriously ask this question, the analysis of what has gone wrong and where we are heading has been mostly off-base. Investigation of the kinds of under-handed, criminal tactics fascist regimes undertake to legitimize their agenda and accelerate the rate of change in their favor is dismissed as indulging in “conspiracy theory.” Liberals insist that this regime must be treated under the rules of “politics as usual.” But this doesn’t consider that one election has already been stolen, and that September’s repeat of irregularities in Florida was a clear warning that more such thuggery is on the way. If the “f” word is uttered, liberals are quick to note certain obvious dissimilarities with previous variants of fascism and say that what is happening in America is not fascist. It took German justice minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin to make the comparison explicit (under present American rules of political discourse, she has been duly sacked from her cabinet post); but at the liberal New York Times or The Nation, American writers dare not speak the truth.
The blinkered assertion that we are immune to the virus ignores degrees of convergence and distinction based on the individual patient’s history. The Times and other liberal voices have been obsessed over the last year with the rise of minority fascist parties in the Netherlands, France, and other European countries. They have questioned the tastefulness of new books and movies about Hitler, and again demonized such icons of Nazism as Leni Riefenstahl. Is this perhaps a displacement of American anxiety onto the safer European scene, liberal intellectuals here not wanting to confront the troubling truth? The pace of events in the last year has been almost as blindingly fast as it was after Hitler’s Machtergreifung and the consolidation of fascist power in 1933. Speed stuns and silences.
Max Frankel, former editor of the Times, quotes from biographer Joachim Fest in his review of Speer: The Final Verdict: ” . . .how easily, given appropriate conditions, people will allow themselves to be mobilized into violence, abandoning the humanitarian traditions they have built up over centuries to protect themselves from each other,” and that a “primal being” such as Hitler “will always crop up again.” Is Frankel really redirecting his anxiety about the primal being that has arisen in America? When Frankel says that “Speer far more than Hitler [because the former came from a culturally refined background] makes us realize how fragile these precautions are, and how the ground on which we all stand is always threatened,” is this an oblique reference to the ground shifting from under us?
The proposed Iraqi adventure, which is only the first step in a more ambitious militarist agenda, has been opposed by the most conservative warmongers of past administrations. If the test of any theory is its predictive capacity, Bush’s extreme risk-taking is better explained by the fascist model. Purely economic motives are a large part of the story, but there is a deeper derivation that exceeds such mundane rationales. Several of the apparent contradictions in Bush’s governance make perfect sense if the fascist prism is applied, but not with the normal perspective.
To pose the question doesn’t mean that this is a completed project; at any point, anything can happen to shift the course of history in a different direction. Yet after repeated and open corruption of the normal electoral process, several declarations of world war (including in three major addresses, and now the National Security Strategy document), adventurous and unprecedented military doctrines, suspension of much of the Bill of Rights, and clear signals that a declaration of emergency to crush remaining dissent is on the way, surely it is time to analyze the situation differently.
Absent that perspicacity, false diagnoses and prescriptions will continue. It is fine to be concerned about tyrannous Muslim regimes, and surely they need to set their own house in order, but not now, not in this context, and not under the auspices of the American fascist regime. Liberals don’t yet realize, or fail to admit, that they may have been condemned to irrelevance for quite some time; the death blow against even mild welfare statism might already have been struck.
The similarities between American fascism and particularly the National Socialist precedent, both historical and theoretical, are remarkable. Fascism is home, it is here to stay, and it better be countered with all the intellectual resources at our disposal.
American fascism is tapping into the perennial complaint against liberalism: that it doesn’t provide an authentic sense of belonging to the majority of people. And that is a criticism difficult to dismiss out of hand. As the language of liberalism has become flat and predictable, some Americans have become more ready to accept an alternative, no matter how ridiculous, as long as it sounds vigorous and muscular.
America today is seeking a return to some form of vitalism, some organic, volkisch order that will “unite” the blue and red states in an eternal Volkgemeinschaft; is in a state of perpetual war and militaristic aggression targeting all potential counters to hegemony; has been coercing and blackmailing its own victims and oppressed (justified by anti-political correctness rhetoric) to return to a mythical national consensus; has introduced surveillance technology to demolish the private sphere to an extent unimaginable in the recent past; and fetishizes technology as the futuristic solution to age-old ills of alienation and mistrust.
And we are right in the mainstream of the Western philosophical and political tradition in this subtle (overnight?) transformation. Liberal democracy was replaced by Mussolini by these two Holy Trinities: Believe, Obey, Fight, and Order, Authority, Justice. These slogans seem to replace every liberal system sooner or later. Italian propagandistic slogans included: War is to man as childbirth is to woman, and Better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep. Sooner or later, the mob is persuaded that fascism best addresses its unfulfilled spiritual and psychological needs. Sooner or later there is a Hitler, and even if there isn’t a leader as charismatic as him, there is an anti-modernity counter-revolution.
The enlightenment everywhere has contained the seeds of its own destruction. Fascism merely borrows from the enlightenment’s credo that violence may sometimes be necessary to achieve valid political ends, and that human reason alone can lead humanity to utopia. Is Nazism an absolute aberration? Is America totally immune to fascism? Then we might as well discredit Rousseau’s “general will,” Hegel’s historical spirit, Goethe and Schelling’s romanticization of nature and genius, Darwin’s natural selection, and Nietzsche’s superman. When all is said and done, a Kant or Mill is never a match for a Nietzsche or Sorel. Industrial malaise (now post-industrial disorder), evaded by the dead-ends and delusions of liberalism, leads only to a romantic revolution, which is fine as long as it is in the hands of Byron, Keats, Carlyle, Ruskin and Arnold, but becomes eventually converted to a propaganda-saturated Third Way. Since liberalism doesn’t take up the challenge, fascism steps in to say that it offers an answer to centrifugal difference and lack of common purpose, and that it will dare to link industrial prosperity with communal goals.
How great a deviation from the roots of the enlightenment, the foundations of its self-justification, is the Manichean demonization of enemies, aliens, impure races, and barbaric others? America today wants to be communal and virile; it seeks to overcome what is presented by propagandists as the unreasonable demands for affirmative action and reparations by minorities and women; it wants to revalorize nation and region and race to take control of the future; it seeks to remold the nation through propaganda and charismatic leadership, into overcoming the social divisiveness of capitalism and democracy.
We have our own nationalist myths that our brand of fascism taps right into. In that sense, America is not exceptional. In the near future, America can be expected to embark on a more radical search to define who is not part of the natural order: exclusion, deportation, and eventually extermination, might again become the order of things. Of course, we can notice obvious differences from the German nationalist tradition: but that is precisely the task of scholars to delineate, rather than pretend that fascism occurred only in Italy and Germany and satellite states in the first half of the century, and occurs today only in Europe in minor movements that have no chance of gaining political supremacy.
It is wrong to pretend that fascism takes hold only in the midst of extreme economic depression or political chaos. (A perception of crisis or instability is indispensable to realizing fascism, however.) Fascism can emerge when things are not all that bad economically, politically, and culturally. The surprise about Weimar Germany is how well the political system was at times working, with proportional representation (almost an ideal of strong democracy theorists) providing political expression for a full range of ideologies. Germany was economically strong, an industrial powerhouse, despite having had to overcome massive disabilities imposed by the Versailles Treaty. In the early thirties, Hitler’s rise was facilitated by massive unemployment (perhaps forty percent of Germans were unemployed), but this was a phenomenon throughout the Western world.
The key point to note is that at many junctures along the way, it was possible that Hitler’s rise might never have happened. And that the elites accepted Hitler as the best possible option. All this makes Hitler and Nazism unexceptional. The basic paradigm remains more or less intact: we only have to account for variations in the American model. Capitalism today is different, so are the postmodern means of propaganda, and so are the technological tools of suppression. Besides, American foundational myths vary from European ones, and the romanticism propounded by Goethe, Schelling, Wagner and Nietzsche contrasts with a different kind of holistic urge in America. But that is only a matter of variation, not direct opposition. Liberals who say that demographics work against a Republican majority in the early twenty-first century do have a point; but fascism can occur precisely at that moment of truth, when the course of political history can definitely tend to one direction or another. A mere push can set things on a whole different course, regardless of underlying cultural or demographic trends. Nazism never had the support of the majority of Germans; at best about a third fully supported it. About a third of Americans today are certifiably fascist; another twenty percent or so can be swayed around with smart propaganda to particular causes. So the existence of liberal institutions is not necessarily inconsistent with fascism’s political dominance.
With all of Germany’s cultural strength, brutality won out; the same analysis can apply to America. Hitler never won clear majorities; yet once he was in power, he crushed all dissent. Consider the parallels to the fateful election of 2000. Hitler’s ascent to power was facilitated by the political elites; again, note the similarities to the last two years. Hitler took advantage of the Reichstag fire to totally change the shape of German institutions and culture; think of 9/11 as a close parallel. Hitler was careful to give the impression of always operating under legal cover, even for the most massive offenses against humanity; note again the similarity of a pseudo-legal shield for the actions of the American fascists. One can go on and on in this vein.
If we look at Stanley Payne’s classical general theory of fascism, we are struck by the increasing similarities with the American model:
A. The Fascist Negations
Anti-liberalism Anti-communism Anti-conservatism (though with the understanding that fascist groups . . .[are] more willing to undertake temporary alliances with groups from any other sector, most commonly the right).B. Ideology and Goals
Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state. Organization of some new kind of regulated, multi-class, integrated national economic structure. The goal of empire. Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed. C. Style and Organization Emphasis on aesthetic structure . . .stressing romantic and mystical aspects. Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and the goal of a mass party militia. Positive evaluation and use of . . .violence. Extreme stress on the masculine principle. Exaltation of youth. Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command.
American fascism denies affiliation with liberalism, communism, and conservatism. The first two denials are obvious; the third requires a little analysis, but fascism is not conservatism and it takes issue with conservatism’s anti-revolutionary stance. Conservatism’s libertarian strand, an American staple (think of the recent protestations of Dick Armey, the departing Bob Barr, and the Cato Institute against some of the grossest violations of civil liberties), would not agree with fascism’s “nationalist authoritarian state.” Reaganite anti-government rhetoric might well have been a precursor to fascism, but Hayekian free market and deregulationist ideology cannot be labeled fascism.
Continuing to look at Payne’s list, we note that the goal of “empire,” that much proscribed word in official American vocabulary, has found open acceptance over the last year among the fascist vanguard. Voluntarism has been elevated to iconic status in the current American manifestation of fascism. It takes a bit more effort to notice American fascism’s “emphasis on aesthetic structure. . .stressing romantic and mystical aspects,” but reflection suggests many innovative stylistic emphases. The mass party militia, especially large bands of organized, militarized youth, seems to be missing ? for now. Violence is glorified for its own sake. The masculine principle has been elevated as the basis of policy-making. Command is authoritarian, charismatic, and personal. It is true that a charismatic leader like Hitler is missing from the scene; but one would have to ask if this is not a redundancy in the American historical context. Perhaps we are a society mobilized by very small degrees of charisma, unlike more informed, impassioned, ideologically committed electorates.
Roger Griffin holds that fascism consists of a series of myths: fascism is anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-rational, charismatic, socialist, totalitarian, racist and eclectic. If one wishes to argue that American fascism is by no means socialist, one ought to take a deeper look at National Socialism’s conception of socialism. In a sense, America is a socialist society, to the extent that the government is the main driving force behind technology, innovation, and science: the military-industrial-academic complex. National Socialism was comforting to the right-wing capitalists because they believed that socialism was a convenient fiction for the ideology. Nevertheless, fascism’s vitalism and holism militate against any facile interpretations of what socialism means. Fascism is eclectic and ready to abandon economic principle for what it perceives as the greater good of the nation. As Sternhell has described it for Germany, fascism in the American synthesis is a cultural rebellion, a revolutionary ideology; totalitarianism is of its very essence. There are more similarities than immediately apparent between Marxism as it was put into practice by the twentieth century communist states, and “socialist” ideology put into practice by the various fascist states.
Ian Kershaw has evaluated the similarities between Italian and German fascism:
Extreme chauvinistic nationalism with pronounced imperialistic expansionist tendencies; an anti-socialist, anti-Marxist thrust aimed at the destruction of working class organizations and their Marxist political philosophy; the basis in a mass party drawing from all sectors of society, though with pronounced support in the middle class and proving attractive to the peasantry and to various uprooted or highly unstable sectors of the population; fixation on a charismatic, plebiscitary, legitimized leader; . extreme intolerance towards all oppositional and presumed oppositional groups, expressed through vicious terror, open violence and ruthless repression; . glorification of militarism and war, heightened by the backlash to the comprehensive socio-political crisis in Europe arising from the First World War; . dependence upon an “alliance” with existing elites, industrial, agrarian, military and bureaucratic, for their political breakthrough; . and, at least an initial function, despite a populist-revolutionary anti-establishment rhetoric, in the stabilization or restoration of social order and capitalist structures.
Viewed in this perspective, in only the last few months America has advanced tremendously from emerging to realized fascism. Its imperialist and expansionist tendencies need to be couched less and less in Wilsonian idealist terms for mass acceptance. Unions can still be considered an oppositional, populist force, but working class cohesion has nearly been destroyed. Still, it needs to be said that instead of fascism appealing across class and geographical lines, the country remains divided between the liberal (urban, coastal) and proto-fascist (rural, Southern) factions. Also, the plebiscitary leader has not yet fully emerged. Oppositional groups are often self-silencing, but the most of the ruling establishment continues to practice a mild form of liberalism, and hopes that if things get too out of hand it can mobilize public opinion against brutal suppression. Although not all elites have yet been co-opted, think of Dershowitz’s advocacy of torture and Larry Summers’s patriotic swing. There is general agreement on militaristic aims. The attempted stabilization of the social order in the form of the culture wars fought in the previous decade is one of the less appreciated manifestations of emerging fascism.
George Mosse describes fascism as viewing itself in a permanent state of war, to mobilize masculine virile energy, enlisting the masses as “foot soldiers of a civic religion.” As Mosse points out, fascism seeks a higher form of democracy even as it rejects the customary forms of representative government. Propaganda is pervasive in America; we only need to delineate its descent from the Nazi form. Mosse rejects the notion that fascism ruled through terror; “it was built upon a popular consensus.” Fascism is a higher consensus seeking to bring about the “new man” rooted in Christian doctrine. Can there be a better description of the nineties American culture wars instigated by the proto-fascists than the following?:
When fascists spoke of culture, they meant a proper attitude toward life: encompassing the ability to accept a faith, the work ethic, and discipline, but also receptivity to art and the appreciation of the native landscape. The true community was symbolized by factors opposed to materialism, by art and literature, the symbols of the past and the stereotypes of the present. The National Socialist emphasis upon myth, symbol, literature and art is indeed common to all fascism.
Most of this is obvious, except the reference to literature and art; but think of the fetishization of the Great Books and the mythical classical curriculum by Bennett and his like. In thus viewing fascism above all as a cultural movement, the objection might be raised that American fascism lacks a distinctive stylistic expression that iconizes youth and war. Instead, it might be argued that it suffers from callow endorsement by dour old white males, whose cultural appeal is limited in the discredited stylistic forms they employ. To some extent this is true, but one must never underestimate the fertile ground American anti-intellectualism provides for more banal forms of propaganda and cultural terrorism than needed to be deployed by Nazism. (Eminem does electrocute Cheney in his video, but in real life Cheney rules.) American communication technology, as was true of Nazi Germany, has pioneered whole new methods of trivialization of “mass death” and elevation of brutality as a “great experience.”
War is both necessary and great, and that is America’s continuation of the fascist fascination with revitalization of “basic moral values.” Furthermore, the puritanism of American fascism does not necessarily conflict with the Nazi emphasis on style and beauty: Nazism annexed “the pillars of respectability: hard work, self-discipline, and good manners,” which explains “the puritanism of National Socialism, its emphasis upon chastity, the family, good manners, and the banishment of women from public life.” The analogs to Karl May’s widely circulated novels in Weimar and Nazi Germany can probably be found here, as can America’s answer to Max Nordau, rebelling against decadence in art and literature, and maintaining that “lack of clarity, inability to uphold moral standards, and absence of self-discipline all sprang from the degeneration of their [artists’] physical organism.” Think only of the demonization of Mapplethorpe and others, the emasculation of the NEA, and the continued attack on alleged artistic degeneracy. We must be willing to consider expanded definitions of how romanticism has been incorporated by American fascism.
Liberals might complain that in America there hasn’t been a declared revolution, a transformation that asserts itself as such. But as noted above fascism simply takes over the liberals’ language of “clarity, decency, and natural laws,” as well as its ideals of “tolerance and freedom.” That sounds like the sleight-of-hand performed by the fascists here. As Mosse says:
Tolerance. . .was claimed by fascists in antithesis to their supposedly intolerant enemies, while freedom was placed within the community. To be tolerant meant not tolerating those who opposed fascism: individual liberty was possible only within the collectivity. Here once more, concepts that had become part and parcel of established patterns of thought were not rejected (as so many historians have claimed) but instead co-opted – fascism would bring about ideals with which people were comfortable, but only on its own terms.
So to be liberal means to be intolerant, out of sync with the American democratic spirit. That suggestion has taken hold among large numbers of people.
The current American aesthetic appreciation of technology (“smart” bombs) is also of a piece with Hitler’s passion. Fascism is not a deviance from popular cultural trends, but only the taming of activism within revived nationalist myths. Mosse holds that fascism didn’t diverge from mainstream European culture; it absorbed most of what held great mass appeal. It never decried workers’ tastelessness; it accepted these realities. The same principles apply to American fascism.
Umberto Eco, in his essay “Ur-Fascism,” identifies fourteen characteristics of “eternal fascism”: not all of them have to be present at the same time for a system to be considered fascist, and some of them may even be contradictory: “There was only one Nazism, and we cannot describe the ultra-Catholic Falangism of Franco as Nazism, given that Nazism is fundamentally pagan, polytheistic, and anti-Christian, otherwise it is not Nazism.” Eco is intelligent enough to suggest a family of resemblance, overlap, and kinship, and the analyst’s task is to note which particular characteristics apply to a system, and understand the reasons for the absence of others, rather than dismiss the fascist categorization if a single feature from a previous fascist variant doesn’t apply: “Remove the imperialist dimension from Fascism, and you get Franco or Salazar; remove the colonialist dimension, and you get Balkan Fascism. Add to Italian Fascism a dash of radical anti-Capitalism (which never appealed to Mussolini), and you get Ezra Pound. Add the cult of Celtic mythology and the mysticism of the Grail (completely extraneous to official Fascism), and you get one of the most respected gurus of Fascism, Julius Evola.” It is noteworthy about Eco’s matrix that all fourteen of his characteristics of ur-fascism apply to America to some degree: 1. “the cult of tradition” (which may be “syncretic” and able to “tolerate contradictions”); 2. “the rejection of modernism” and “irrationalism”; 3. “the cult of action for action’s sake”; 4. “dissent is betrayal”; 5. “fear of difference,” or racism; 6. “the appeal to the frustrated middle classes” [this seems to cause the most trouble to American liberals; Eco clarifies, “In our day, in which the old ‘proletarians’ are becoming petits bourgeois (and the lumpen proletariat has excluded itself from the political arena), Fascism will find its audience in this new majority.]; 7. “obsession with conspiracies,” along with xenophobia and nationalism; 8. “the enemy is at once too strong and too weak” [note the simultaneous characterization of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and no doubt future Islamic “terrorists” as capable of irrevocably harming us and being impotent to really do so]; 9. ‘Pacifism is. . .collusion with the enemy,” “life is a permanent war,” and only a “final solution” can herald an age of peace; 10. “scorn for the weak” imposed by a mass elite; 11. “the cult of death” [American fascists ascribe this characteristic to terrorists, when in fact it is one of their own supreme defining characteristics]; 12. transferring of the “will to power onto sexual questions,” or “machismo”; 13. “individuals have no rights,” and fascism “has to oppose ‘rotten’ parliamentary governments”; and 14. “Ur-Fascism uses newspeak.”
No doubt, fascism is a descriptor too carelessly thrown around; but Nixon and Reagan, no matter how reprehensible their politics, were not quite fascist. Bush is the most dangerous man in contemporary history: Hitler didn’t have access to weapons that could blow up the world, and no American or other leader since World War II with access to such weapons has been as out of control. Perhaps a non-controversial statement may be that the fascist tendency always exists, at the very least latent and dormant. But when more and more of the latency becomes actualized, there comes a point when the nature of the problem has to be redefined. We may already have crossed that point. As Eco notes, “Ur-Fascism can still return in the most innocent of guises. Our duty is to unmask it and to point the finger at each of its new forms ? every day, in every part of the world.” And as Eco reminds us, Roosevelt issued a similar warning.
Since liberals don’t understand the magnitude of the crisis global capitalism faces, they don’t understand the extent of the desperate, last-ditch effort to find an ideological glue (“terror”) to hold together the centrifugal forces in the American population. Part of the confusion is that this is fascism but not really fascism ? it is only its simulation, although no less horrifying for that reason ? because all the twentieth-century ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, and socialism) are rapidly dissolving.
ANIS SHIVANI studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why The Major Media Marginalize Bernie


Why The Major Media Marginalize Bernie

 03/31/2016 10:44 am ET | Updated 3 days ago

  • Robert Reich
    Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; author, ‘Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few’’
“Bernie did well last weekend but he can’t possibly win the nomination,” a friend told me for what seemed like the thousandth time, attaching an article from theWashington Post that shows how far behind Bernie remains in delegates.
Wait a minute. Last Tuesday, Sanders won 78 percent of the vote in Idaho and 79 percent in Utah. This past Saturday, he took 82 percent of the vote in Alaska, 73 percent in Washington, and 70 percent in Hawaii.
In fact, since March 15, Bernie has won six out of the seven Democratic primary contests with an average margin of victory of 40 points. Those victories have given him roughly a one hundred additional pledged delegates.
As of now, Hillary Clinton has 54.9 percent of the pledged delegates to Bernie Sanders’s 45.1 percent.That’s still a sizable gap - but it doesn’t make Bernie an impossibility.
Moreover, there are 22 states to go with nearly 45 percent of pledged delegates still up for grabs - and Bernie has positive momentum in almost all of them.
Hillary Clinton’s lead in superdelegates will vanish if Bernie gains a majority of pledged delegates.
Bernie is outpacing Hillary Clinton in fundraising. In February, he raised $42 million (from 1.4 million contributions, averaging $30 each), compared to her $30 million. In January he raised $20 million to her $15 million.
By any measure, the enthusiasm for Bernie is huge and keeps growing. He’s packing stadiums, young people are flocking to volunteer, support is rising among the middle-aged and boomers.
In Idaho and Alaska he exceeded the record primary turnout in 2008, bringing thousands of new voters. He did the same thing in Colorado, Kansas, Maine, and Michigan as well.
Yet if you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, or watch CNN or even MSNBC, or listen to the major pollsters and pundits, you’d come to the same conclusion as my friend. Every success by Bernie is met with a story or column or talking head whose message is “but he can’t possibly win.”
Some Sanders supporters speak in dark tones about a media conspiracy against Bernie. That’s baloney. The mainstream media are incapable of conspiring with anyone or anything. They wouldn’t dare try. Their reputations are on the line. If the public stops trusting them, their brands are worth nothing.
The real reason the major media can’t see what’s happening is because the national media exist inside the bubble of establishment politics, centered in Washington, and the bubble of establishment power, centered in New York.
As such, the major national media are interested mainly in personalities and in the money behind the personalities. Political reporting is dominated by stories about the quirks and foibles of the candidates, and about the people and resources behind them.
Within this frame of reference, it seems nonsensical that a 74-year-old Jew from Vermont, originally from Brooklyn, who calls himself a Democratic socialist, who’s not a Democratic insider and wasn’t even a member of the Democratic Party until recently, who has never been a fixture in the Washington or Manhattan circles of power and influence, and who has no major backers among the political or corporate or Wall Street elites of America, could possibly win the nomination.
But precisely because the major media are habituated to paying attention to personalities, they haven’t been attending to Bernie’s message - or to its resonance among Democratic and independent voters (as well as many Republicans). The major media don’t know how to report on movements.
In addition, because the major media depend on the wealthy and powerful for revenues, because their reporters and columnists rely on the establishment for news and access, because their top media personalities socialize with the rich and powerful and are themselves rich and powerful, and because their publishers and senior executives are themselves part of the establishment, the major media have come to see much of America through the eyes of the establishment.
So it’s understandable, even if unjustifiable, that the major media haven’t noticed how determined Americans are to reverse the increasing concentration of wealth and political power that have been eroding our economy and democracy. And it’s understandable, even if unjustifiable, that they continue to marginalize Bernie Sanders.
ROBERT B. REICH’s new book, “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” is now out. His film “Inequality for All” is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Aiding and Abetting: How an Uncritical Media Helped Trump's Rise



Aiding and Abetting: How an Uncritical Media Helped Trump's Rise

An Essay By 
In his campaign, Donald Trump has successfully steered clear of the checks and balances presidential candidates are usually subjected to. Zoom
In his campaign, Donald Trump has successfully steered clear of the checks and balances presidential candidates are usually subjected to.
Donald Trump abuses members of the media and wants to limit American press freedoms, even as he exploits them to field his own message. But his rise can also be traced to the failures of journalists, who remained disturbingly uncritical for far too long.

Forbes writer Clare O'Connor? "Dummy." AP reporter Jill Colvin? "One of the truly bad reporters." CNN Journalist Sara Murray? "Absolutely terrible." Arianna Huffington? "Liberal clown." Fox moderator Megyn Kelly? "A bimbo" with "blood coming out of her wherever."

It would be hard to top the insults that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has unleashed on female journalists. Trump is a chauvinist who can't tolerate criticism from self-confident women. But these reporters are only his most prominent victims. Trump has demanded the removal of debate hosts, he has sued TV channels and during his appearances, journalists regularly become the target of verbal attacks. At almost every one of his rallies, there is a moment when he pauses, points to the journalists squeezed behind the press barriers, and says: "Those are miserable people!"

The longer this election continues, the more apparent it is becoming that this candidate is changing the fundamental relationship between the media and the American political world. The democratic public sphere, one of the pillars of every democracy, is facing two threats: Trump's brute attacks and the media's own failure. Many newsrooms didn't fulfill their democratic duty to monitor Trump, and to perform checks and balances, letting him get away with insults, lies and far-fetched promises. When it comes to Trump, the critical public sphere has shown itself to be dysfunctional far too often in the last few months.

Trump maintains a schizophrenic relationship with the media. On the one hand, he exploits it in order to spread his message and propaganda. On the other, though, he has nothing but contempt for journalists. He would even like to restrict press freedom, most recently through a proposal to strengthen libel laws by raising financial penalties so high they could put entire news organizations out of business. The proposed legislation could be described as a weapon directed at Trump's critics -- he's even explicitly named the New York Times and the Washington Post, two of the American newspapers who are going after him the most aggressively, as targets. The proposal offers a taste of what America would be like under a President Trump. These days, America feels a bit like Hungary.

The Twitter Election

Trump has also understood better than any other candidate how to harness social media in order to circumvent the critical public sphere. On Twitter he now has 6.7 million followers, and over 1 million on Instagram. The New York Times, in comparison, has a total circulation of about 2 million. Trump recently claimed that having his Twitter account was "like owning the New York Times without the losses." He has made it his policy to entertain his followers regularly, sometimes with over 20 tweets per day, allowing him to create his own stream of news.

The calculus behind this is simple: With Twitter and Facebook, the traditional media have partly lost their function as gatekeepers. Social networks allow direct communication between politicians and the people. Journalists no longer have a monopoly on information and communication. That isn't a bad development per se. The direct communication made possible by the Internet is, of course, technically democratic -- even egalitarian. But it can also result in the loss of the context, the discourse and the fact-checking normally associated with political debate. It also erodes the filtering function of the media. Barack Obama was the first politician to make use of this principle of direct communication during his 2008 campaign, and later during his time in the White House.

But Trump has expanded and perfected this method of circumventing journalists, and thus created his own parallel public sphere, with followers who are all too willing to believe him. And when he has no argument left with which to counter his critics, he can write a terse, mean Tweet arguing that he is merely being attacked by the liberal media establishment. No matter what the media say, if there is any doubt, it is a lie. It is the American version of "L├╝genpresse," or "lying press," a slur that has become commonplace during the recent right-wing protests in Germany.

In his contempt for democratic discourse, Trump has some notable similarities to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in a way serves as Trump's role model. The Russian once told a French journalist that, if he has so much pity for the victims of the war in Chechnya, he should circumcise himself. It was Trump-speak long before the real-estate tycoon even stepped onto the political stage.

It is no coincidence that Trump treats Russia with kid gloves. He says he has a good personal relationship with Putin, and that the Russian is a strong, impressive national leader. Putin and Trump are united in their loathing of the idea that a critical public sphere is part of a functioning democracy. They want to issue orders to people rather than explain things. This disdain makes them both fundamentally anti-democratic. So far, though, the outcry on the subject in the United States has been weak.

Failure to Counter Trump

Lots of American media outlets, especially large TV stations, have viewed Trump so far as entertainment. No word is too dirty to be put on the air somewhere, and Trump has a screen presence unlike any other candidate. Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich described the mechanics of this election to the hosts of "Fox & Friends," a show on the arch-conservative Fox News channel thusly: "Donald Trump gets up in the morning, tweets to the entire planet at no cost, picks up the phone, calls you, has a great conversation for about eight minutes, which would have cost him a ton in commercial money, and meanwhile his opponents are all out there trying to raise the money to run an ad." Of the show, which long offered Trump a regular platform, Gingrich said: "You could say that Trump is the candidate 'Fox & Friends' invented."

A power dynamic of superiority and subordination has emerged with Trump and some journalists that should not exist in a democracy.

Investigative reporting is one of the fundamental elements of democracy. It exists to bring to light the kind of information the powerful would often prefer to hide. In no other country is this tradition as strong as it is in the US, the home of the Watergate investigation. But when it comes to Trump, investigative journalism has failed. In contrast to, for example, Hillary Clinton in this election, there have been no big, 
groundbreaking pieces of reporting dealing with his past, his serious financial mistakes and bankruptcies that cost the state and society dearly. About the brutality he displays when people get in his way. About the rumors about his alleged ties to the New York mafia. About his tax returns which, unlike all the other candidates, he has not yet released.

His campaign thrives on his appearance as an all-powerful figure and infallible businessman. One suspects that there is another Trump who operates at the boundaries of that which is allowed, and often beyond it. But the only image of Trump that exists is a distorted one that he created and largely shapes himself. The media hasn't managed to correct that image.

Why? One leading Washington journalist argues that it's because it was not only the journalists, but also the other candidates' election strategists who underestimated Trump. Normally, the managers of each campaign tend to gather as much dirt as they possibly can about their opponents which, when the time is right, they spread. This didn't happen to Trump, he argues, because, like most journalists, the other candidates believed Trump would flame out. He argues that many news organizations only recently truly woke up. Perhaps too late.

Unlikely News Hero

Shamefully, it is Fox News, of all places, that has demonstrated that there is a different way of dealing with Trump. The candidate had threatened to boycott a TV debate against his Republican rivals that Fox was going to air shortly before the first caucuses in Iowa. The debate was to be moderated by Megyn Kelly, who had dared to ask Trump critical questions during an earlier debate.

Prior to the debate, the TV channel released a statement lambasting Trump. Trump demanded an apology. If it did not come, he said, he wouldn't take to the stage. Roger Ailes, the powerful head of Fox News, spoke with Trump several times on the phone but didn't apologize, and did not remove his host. Kelly moderated the evening's debate, and Trump stayed away. Four days later, he lost Iowa.

Trump has since figured out the connection between his absence from TV and his result in the caucus. He took part in the next debate organized by Fox in early March. Megyn Kelly didn't hold back, confronting him with quotes from his earlier speeches that contradicted his current positions, and forced him to admit in public that he was politically "flexible." It hurt him.

There is no guarantee that an aggressive confrontation with Donald Trump would lead fewer people to vote for him, or more to recognize his deeply authoritarian style of politics. Fox has nevertheless shown Trump how it could happen. One would hope that the next time Trump agitates against minorities or threatens members of the media, that assembled journalists would turn off their cameras and all leave the premises.

If Trump actually becomes his party's candidate or, even worse, becomes the next president of the United States of America, the damage to democracy would be significant not only because it would turn America into an autocratic nation, but because it would mean that, in this election, the principle of public scrutiny and thus democracy would have failed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bernie Bias: The Mainstream Media Undermines Sanders at Every Turn Thru Super Tuesday and Beyond


The pattern is to ignore, downplay and mischaracterize Sanders' positions.

Photo Credit: via Sanders campaign

Who knew, when Bernie Sanders announced a run in the Democratic primary, that not only would he meet with hostility from his main opponent's chief surrogates, but that the media would acquiesce and even collude to such a great degree?
When analyzing the quantity and content of the vast majority of what is said and written about Sanders, his campaign platform, and appearances, one finds a running theme across the so-called liberal media. The New York Times has been called out by more than one analyst, myself included, for its complete lack of serious coverage of Bernie Sanders.
Since joining the staff at the New York Times, Maggie Haberman has written about Sanders on fewer than a handful of occasions, while she has written about the other candidates in the race more often. While it is understandable that Hillary Clinton would be the subject of more numerous articles, it makes no sense for Martin O'Malley to have more articles written about him than Sanders, given the pecking order that emerged right from the start, yet that is what has transpired so far.
In articles that address various aspects of the Democratic side of the primary, Senator Sanders' ability to succeed is always described in doubtful terms, even as Hillary Clinton's troubles in the polls are being described. The New York Times has published fewer than a dozen pieces that are Sanders campaign-specific and each is problematic in the way he is portrayed. Most often, Sanders' age and hair are highlighted, and the incorrect moniker "socialist" is applied. (Socialist and Democratic socialist are not interchangeable terms.)
While the age of a candidate might matter to some when thinking about a candidate's experience or mental capacity, Bernie Sanders is 73, only six years older than Hillary Clinton. His mental capacity has never been a subject of contention. One can only conclude from the repetition of negative references, that writers are attempting to condition readers into thinking of Sanders as the "unkempt" elderly stereotype.
Most presidential candidates have been older than 60. Think of Ronald Reagan. The distance between 67 to 73, in human years, isn't that significant from either the experiential or health standpoints. If anything, Sanders' breakneck schedule, accounting for work in the Senate, crisscrossing the nation to hold rallies, and appearing on cable news shows demonstrates a high level of mental and physical energy.
The most harmful way anti-Sanders media bias has been manifested is by omission. In this respect, the New York Times is joined by the vast majority of the mainstream media in not typically reporting on Sanders, especially on policy. Overall there is  a version of a “wall of silence” built by the media when it comes to serious reporting and analysis of his policies; or when analyzing or reporting on the policies of his opponents, a failure to mention Sanders' in contrast, especially when his is the more progressive position. This behavior hasn't gone unnoticed by readers. You can see numerous complaints from readers about the Times organization's bias toward Sanders. You see it in the New York Times comments section, on the Facebook pages and comments sections of all the major publications, and just about everywhere else. Readers complain about the lack of substantive coverage as well as the bias in what little is published. The Times' Jason Horowitz' piece, "Bernie Sanders Draws Big Crowds to His 'Political Revolution" drew over 1600 comments, double what the most popular columns usually fetch, with most in protest over the obvious bias of the piece and the Times' egregious lack of coverage of Bernie Sanders news.
Bernie Sanders' campaign has centered around economic justice and his plans to reform banking, taxation, trade, stimulate the economy, promote manufacturing at home, and institute jobs programs. I've yet to see side-by side comparisons of the top two Democratic candidates' prescriptions for the US economy. Most economists and economic writers chose to publish pieces on the Clinton economic plan before she gave her speech. Few wrote about it after, and with reason: The speech didn't deliver much in the way of specifics, and was vague about policies that the voting public expects. Sanders' version of an economic plan has yet to garner serious analysis and discussion. Both Clinton and Sanders base their economic prescriptions on economist Joseph Stiglitz' most recent work, Rewrite The Rules. Paul Krugman has, on three occasions, talked up Hillary Clinton's economic platform, specifically on wages, without so much as mentioning Sanders. Clinton favors a minimum wage of $15 per hour in New York City, and $12 an hour nationally. Sanders has called for the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour for everyone. The Times had reported, in May, that Stiglitz' work would likely greatly influence Clinton's platform. If it has, one wouldn't know it, judging by subsequent writings.
Plan for Racial Justice
While news outlets were reporting on the disruptions of Sanders by the Black Lives Matter movement, few followed up on the story as Sanders began to respond positively. Sanders gave a major speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on July 27. It received very little attention from the press. And within a week, Sanders delivered his answer to Black Lives Matter, by way of a plan. The New York Times has yet to make mention of Sanders' plan for racial justice, link to the senator's website, or publish it outright in an article. And the media has ignored the fact that the racial justice plan has received praise among a number of Black Lives Matter leaders, including activist Deray McKesson.
Clarence Page recently wrote about Sanders in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune. He took a tack that many in the press now use: comparing and contrasting Sanders to Donald Trump. Given the kinds of controversy Trump has kicked up with his racial statements, and the treatment Sanders has received over his racial justice bona fides, it is no surprise that many of Sanders' supporters are angry. Page begins his op-ed with: "The farther the left and right wings in politics move toward extremes, an old saying goes, the more they resemble each other."
In any other context, that kind of contrast might have been fair, but not in a piece about Trump and Sanders. In his third paragraph, Page writes: "In recent days we have seen how both Trump, now a seasoned reality TV star, and Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, have faced sharp criticism within their separate political tribes for omitting or offending key constituencies."
While it is true enough that Trump has been making racially offensive statements about all constituencies that aren't key to his campaign, that same accusation does not apply to Bernie Sanders, who in stark contrast to his main opponent, has never, in 50 years of documented political activism and public office, uttered a racially offensive statement, or favored policies that are detrimental to minorities.
Page praises Sanders' plan for racial justice, without any discussion of its points and then goes on to characterize the diversity of Sanders' supporters: "But his impressively huge crowds have been even less diverse than his 95-percent-white home state of Vermont." There's not been a study or poll of the crowds at Sanders events. From what I could see of Sanders' Los Angeles and New Orleans rallies, the crowds seemed to match the diversity of the locale. Of note is the fact that there hasn't yet been a large-scale poll of the black community on its support of Sanders following the publication of his plan for racial justice.
Over a month after the publication of Sanders' plan for racial justice, the media continues to portray him as someone who is racially wounded, when to begin with, that "problem" came into existence the day of the Netroots Nation disruption under the guise of eliciting needed policy from all candidates, even those who are considered friends. As the top Democratic candidate continues to owe such "needed policy," Hillary Clinton continues to enjoy relative insulation from the perception of having any racial wounds, in spite of a record of promoting policies that have led to the very reasons for the birth of Black Lives Matter.
Over at Vox, coverage of Sanders by everyone but Ezra Klein has mostly been overtly negative. Dara Lind address a portion of the race issues in her interview of comedian Roderick Greer, who came up with the Twitter hashtag BernieSoBlack. But that piece contained much more than an explanation of some funny hashtag, and all of it was slanted in the direction of stripping Sanders of his civil rights achievements, even as the piece was titled to indicate Greer's frustration at Sanders' supporters. Attacking Sanders' supporters and portraying them as racist or borderline racist has been a running theme in the press. Since his record on civil rights cannot be impeached and he has never committed a racial faux-pas, the only way to attack him on race is through his supporters, and that is how in piece after piece, Sanders' record is being sullied.
The attacks on Sanders began with a curious refusal to give him any credit for taking part in the civil rights movement, and have been followed up by pieces designed to paint him as dispassionate about human rights and racial justice. Few are those who cite Sanders' longstanding near-perfect rating by the NAACP and ACLU, or mention those, like Senator Cory Booker, who have spoken up in defense of Sanders' lifelong record with the African-American community.
Since when don't records matter?
Up until Bernie Sanders, a politician's record has always been the measure by which evaluations are made. This is of particular import here because Sanders' main opponent, Hillary Clinton, also has a very long record and it isn't being scrutinized. When Clinton met with protesters in New Hampshire and she was confronted with policies of hers and Bill Clinton's that have harmed the black community, little was made of it in the press. All chatter about Clinton's behavior at that meeting has practically come to an end, and she has yet to publish her own policy proposals for racial justice.
Sanders has focused his tenure as a public official on economic justice. That doesn't mean he paid no attention to racial justice. His stump speeches, with few exceptions, make mention of the racial disparities in our society. One example that comes to mind is Sanders' appearance in front of the Council of La Raza, where he spent several minutes addressing racial disparities harming African Americans. 
The characterization that Sanders' position on solving the problems of racial injustice is through addressing economic inequality is patently false. Sanders has long been on record as saying that racial inequality is a separate problem that needs to be addressed in parallel. Almost to a voice, the U.S. mainstream press corps avoids any mention of that in order to cement the perception that Bernie Sanders isn't serious about redressing America's original sin.
At a time when economic and racial inequality are at their deepest, we are again at a similar moment in time as when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking out in favor of racial unity to fight poverty and inequality. In one of his last speeches, "The Three Evils of Society," King described the conditions we find ourselves in today. His prescription came in the form of his Poor People's Campaign, uniting the nation's whites and blacks to fight for economic justice. It is painful to hear and read those who are intimately familiar with King's speeches joining in the same behaviors as the rest of their colleagues in the media in praising Bernie Sanders and putting him down all at once, at times even using the very same Martin Luther King quotes included in Sanders' plan for racial justice.
To Martin Luther King Jr., racial, educational and economic justice were always inexorably tied. To James Baldwin, racial, educational and economic justice were indivisible from each other. It takes a rare cynic who is well versed in the writings of Baldwin and King to use them as bludgeons against Sanders, all the while withholding salient facts from the public, so it can do its job as described in Baldwin's The Fire Next Time:
“And here we are at the center of the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen. Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”
In the absence of fair media coverage, how do we create the consciousness of the others? How do we achieve our country? How do we avoid repeating history?
Rima Regas is a Southern California-based writer and commentator with a passion for progressive politics, and social and economic justice. Her career has included stints as a congressional staffer, graphic designer, technical writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @Rima_Regas and Blog#42 atwww.rimaregas.com