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I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

Book Review of Do No Evil

The following review is from Kirkus, the nation's premier book reviewer:

"An effective integration of ethics, morality and business principles. In a logical progression, Berumen offers a historical review of major thinkers in philosophy and ethics, including John Locke, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes and many others. He develops a framework for universal morality in which moral imperatives--rather than being matters of subjective opinion--immutable. The basis for universal morality, however, must be the avoidance of death and suffering, not just the general pursuit of good--"Being good is not good enough to be moral." The author also dissects current ethical debates, including extensive discussions, of social justice, animal rights and the environment. He explores the free-market economy, acknowledging what he believes to be the superiority of capitalism over socialism--"My theory shows that capitalism is not only ethically permissible, but also that socialism is more difficult to justify on ethical grounds"--and he highlights the principles of individual ownership and property as anchor points in his argument. He balances his argument by noting that the rights to property must be limited, and that morality provides a check on unrestrained capitalist pursuits. In the final section, the author elucidates the many layers of the managerial and corporate environment, deftly analyzing the fiduciary, social and moral relationships between the players in a corporation.

A fresh, convincing ethical examination. "

Selected Links for Reviews/Purchase: 

We’re Just Whistling Past the Graveyard if We Don’t Focus on Defeating Republicans at Every Level

 (Reprinted from Liberal Resistance Feb 21, 2018)

In the wake of the most recent school shooting tragedy in Florida, there is the customary hue and cry of media cognoscenti, gun control activists, and many politicians professing disgust. Social media are abuzz with outrage and commentary. And now, even high school students, the most recent and all-too-often the victims of this mayhem, have commendably taken to the streets.  The leading terrorist organization in the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA), is silent as it always is immediately following such events, keeping its proverbial powder dry and dealing with its legislative lackeys in private, while the public outcry dies down and people move on to something new and shiny. And politicians who depend on the NRA’s largess are offering their usual “thoughts and prayers,” simultaneously admonishing those who speak of reform for “politicizing” the issue, as though that very admonishment and anything else a politician says is not “politicizing” one thing or another. The bolder ones say we ought to look into this, but then they do nothing.  All of this “Déjà vu all over again” – and not long after the Orlando nightclub and Las Vegas concert incidents, which both provoked similar clamors and plaintive pleas for reform. 

My prediction is that nothing substantive will happen at the federal level, that past will be prologue, and that if any legislation occurs in the Congress, it will be relatively meaningless window-dressing, perhaps at most some tweaking of background checks (begging the question: once we have the information, what is it we’re going to do with it?) and raising the minimum age for assault weapons, as though 21 is magically a clear-cut demarcation between sanity and lunacy, or between our pacific and violent natures. And then, if such new laws are passed, politicians will crow about their accomplishment and what bipartisanship can do (there won’t be much of that, I can assure you). But I will believe it, even innocuous reform, when I see it.  I hope I’m wrong. Most likely we will see some things at the state level, but that is hardly a solution as long as people can freely purchase and carry assault munitions across state lines. Which is why federal law is necessary. The fact is, though, there are three unpleasant realities we must face both as liberals and as a nation.  Permit me to encapsulate them.

First, there is the reality that the NRA is nothing less than a sponsor of terrorism and most, even liberals, fail to acknowledge it. Some of us profess as much, but a great many are in denial and simply unwilling to say it, for their neighbors, friends, father, boss … even they might presently or might have previously belonged to it. Much as my father did for many years. Who, after all, wants to say they pay dues to a terrorist organization, and isn’t it really just a sporting outdoorsmen’s and gun safety organization? And, for Heaven’s sake, we don’t see Wayne LaPierre himself out there waiving an AR-15 around and threatening anyone like some unhinged Mullah. The last matter first. The fact that NRA management is not out there shooting people does not militate against the fact that they wantonly and knowingly promote crowding the country with weapons specifically designed to kill people, and that they effectively use largess to prevent any stoppage or reduction of sales resulting from protections that might stop the wrong people from getting them.  As for being a sporting organization, that is simple nonsense, for it stopped being sports enthusiasts’ organization decades ago. It is a lobbying organization for the firearms industry, pure and simple, an industry whose callous utilitarian outlook mandates that profits supersede safety and lives, and declaims against any impingement on access to guns as a slippery slope to ending gun ownership, when in fact it relates more to the prospect of reducing profits, an unacceptable outcome. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with lobbying on behalf of an industry in my view, mind you. But there is when the preponderance of evidence shows the products are certain to be used for criminal and lethal outcomes, and at a cost that is far greater than any possible societal benefit (thereby nullifying the silly argument one hears about outlawing knives and cars).

Let’s get something straight by using an analogy: consider the arms dealer selling weapons to rogue states or terrorists. If such an entity sells arms designed to kill to people to bad actors that will use them illegally to destroy lives and property that results in terror, then that dealer in effect is an accessory to terrorism. And if another entity knowingly represents such a dealer as an agent for easing the latter’s path in society, both in terms of the institutions of law and general public acceptability, then it, too, is an accessory to terrorism. The NRA represents those who manufacture such weapons, manufacturers who know or ought to know the consequences of their use, and it does everything possible to limit any restrictions in the face of mayhem that almost certainly will result from their availability. It then shamelessly beguiles ordinary citizens through propaganda into believing it protects their interests as sporting people. It is not that Americans are more mentally imbalanced than any other nation in the developed world, despite its very high incidence of homicides; it’s that America has more guns than any other developed nation in the world. And one of the principal reasons it does is because of the NRA. The NRA by any standard of logical analysis is essentially a sponsor of death and terrorism. Pure and simple.

The second issue is this. There is a myth that the Second Amendment offers individuals unbridled access to all weapons. It does not, and neither the Founders nor the Framers imagined such a thing. It is only recently that people came to believe that it did, and that is due largely to the success the NRA has had in its propaganda manipulating a large number of gun enthusiasts, building on anti-government sentiment and stoking paranoia about jack-booted, government confiscators swooping down in helicopters, and then essentially holding legislators hostage with both PAC money and its influence over voters, rousing the later into action at the slightest hint of challenge to its interests. No less a conservative than the late Justice Scalia put the lie to the notion that the Second Amendment is so capacious (Columbia v. Heller), and while he did believe the Amendment offers individuals the right to own arms (I disagree with this, but set that aside for our purpose), he also believed that the state has the right to regulate arms, much as one does with getting a license to drive and regulating the kind of equipment that one can use travel the public roads. Would anyone seriously maintain the Second Amendment entitles individuals to possess a nuke, a tank, or a cruise missile? And when the Framers were considering the so-called “prefatory clause” regarding a militia in the Second Amendment, surely they did not mean that such a force that would consist of just anyone, without regard to their capacities or their being in good standing with the law, or that it would entail citizen soldiers with no training. A widespread and consistently reinforced public relations campaign will be necessary to change hearts and minds on this issue, and to disabuse people of the idea that the Second Amendment gives carte blanche to weapons ownership.

Third, and from a practical perspective, the most important issue is this: a Republican Party that has spent years out-foxing Democrats at the local level on redistricting, whilst the latter paid attention to national polls and elections, has secured for itself a disproportionate amount of power in Congress when compared to the number of registered Republicans, nationally. Moreover, its power is inconsistent with the nation’s outlook in the sense that the majority of Americans disagree with very some key elements of the Republican platform on issues ranging from abortion to gun control. Many of the elected Republicans are beholden to the NRA both in terms of the money it gives to their campaigns and the voter influence it wields in their gerrymandered districts. Absent campaign finance reform and fair districting, that relationship is unlikely to change, even with national public pressure, for it is the local district that matters, not what Californians and New Yorkers think about gun control among other

issues. Meaningful campaign finance reform will not occur under a Republican Congress. Period. And fair districting will not occur without the courts intervening in state legislatures’ mischief. Not only are these Republicans beholden to the NRA, they have a corporate constituency’s interests to mind, too, one that may be headed by those of a more “country club” Republican mindset of yore in philosophical orientation, but that is nonetheless forced to be a strange bedfellow with the wooly-minded Evangelicals, gun fetishists, and assorted Trumpsters in order to fulfill its more narrow financial objectives. Most business executives in corporate America are doubtless not interested in supporting the NRA or the GOP’s wackier social agenda; but many do like their lower taxes and fewer regulations.

Which leads me to my final and most important points: if there is to be material change in the NRA’s influence and truly meaningful gun control legislation, the Republicans cannot be allowed to continue their control of Congress. Indeed, they must be completely marginalized so that it is not simply a minority party in Congress by a small degree, but by a decisive amount and one sufficient for cloture in the Senate and enough Democrats and unaligned members in both chambers to overrule a veto from a Republican President. So, if we liberals want to emasculate the NRA and get meaningful gun reform, then we are going to have to get very serious about winning at the local and state level. That means to some degree we need to recalibrate the way we do politics. First and foremost, we must become better marketers and more adapt at playing hardball … and we are not nearly as good as Republicans have been in recent years … and we must relearn Speaker Tip O’Neil’s wise judgement, which is that all politics is local. We must find ways to appeal to local constituencies with local issues, not just the sweeping, single national issues that drive and interest many liberals the most. Those things can be best dealt with once in office; getting there is the trick. Moreover, we must become less divisive in our own ranks, not falling in love but falling in line, like the Republicans, and unlike in some of our recent campaigns where internal strife and overly-pious dogma have contributed to our loses. And like the true believers that dominate the Republican base and the Second Amendment fetishists, we must vote. And until all of that happens and we bounce the Republicans out of Congress for a long period of time, don’t for a moment think things are going to change in any measurable way. They just won’t.  I am not discouraging protests, marches, lobbying efforts, writing and social media campaigns, and attempts to legislate sensible gun control in the meantime; as with the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60s, it is necessary to do these things to build popular support over time. But those efforts should be in addition to the most important measure of all, namely, getting out the vote for good, electable candidates and taking action at the ballot box. And the youthful protesters we see today that are in high school and who are now or will soon be old enough to vote can play a vital role in this by voting and helping to get out the vote in the upcoming midterm election and again in 2020. A decisive Democratic majority in both bodies of Congress is where the rubber ultimately will meet the road.  If we want gun control, marginalize the Republicans and, as a result, put an end the insidious power and mayhem of the NRA.

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, and philosophy. He resides with his wife in Colorado. He is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. He has been writing about and warning against Fascism in America and Trump for several years.


Polemic on Politicians and Society: A Skeptics Defense of Liberalism

Reprinted from Liberal Resistance, 23 Jan 18

By Michael E. Berumen
I don’t mean this in a personal way. It’s not about a particular politician, though I could name many–––but I simply don’t like politicians as a class, and that is true notwithstanding their political orientation, indeed, even when I agree with many of their positions. There are times I might even put political activists as a class at a close second for contempt. I was once an activist myself, long ago, for what that’s worth. And I confess to occasional bouts of it still when moved by idiocy in the political landscape, such as I see today with the rise of the crypto-Confederacy and fascism. There are of course activists and politicians that I do find likable enough in the particular, that is, when I have more first-hand knowledge of them–––because the fact is, as a hopelessly social being, myself, I like most everyone in the particular. My wife assures me that this is a weakness of mine. Some find it easier to like humanity in the abstract, a detached formulation that even seems a bit insincere or even impossible to me, even somewhat meaningless–––whereas I like people individually, concretely, that is, when I know them.
I think that in order to be a politician one must possess characteristics that I rather abhor, and first and foremost, just the fact the typical politician presumes to know what’s best for me and seeks to arrange my life and the lives of others, which I resent. Among other things, they assume that the economic goods that I acquire fairly, whether it is by luck or desert, are at their disposal––well, by virtue of their power, they truly are at their disposal––and, further, they believe that they are in a position to tell me what to think, and often enough they are even able to tell me how to behave, that is, lest I run sideways of the law and suffer the consequences.
Then there are there are the constant self-congratulatory declarations of doing well by others–––of selfless service and sacrifice–––usually ostensibly directed as testimony about other politicians, disingenuously, for in actuality it is intended to reflect more upon themselves. More on that in a moment. Also, I am perturbed by the fact that politicians of every persuasion possess a kind of personal grandiosity, a sense of self most likely entirely unjustified–––a belief they are specially endowed or entitled, with a destiny to fulfill some end-state conception of theirs with benefits that will inure to the rest of us.
Then there’s the matter of lying. Now, human beings lie, almost (I say almost not quite believing it is even just almost) without exception–––and sophisticated psychological studies show people lie astonishingly often, granted, usually on unimportant things, but often enough on important ones, too. But most human beings are not governing large numbers of other human beings, so some liars are more important than other liars in terms of their impact. Here’s the rub that would set politicians all atwitter in denial: in a true democracy with a population consisting of people with a wide range of interests and capacities, in order to succeed, politicians must be untruthful, either by commission or omission, and if not in a blatant way, then in a vague, slippery sort of way, and usually a bit of both–––for in no other manner could they at once appeal to different constituencies with different and, often enough, opposing interests and still be elected. We are all liars, it’s just a fact and there’s no denying it without lying again. But as opposed to most of us, politicians make their livings at lying, and we pay their way. Let me put it another way: one must be something of a scoundrel in order to succeed as a politician.
An honest ideologue would be no better, though, even if he were elected to office, for an ideologue is by definition unyielding and doctrinaire, and he imagines that the fulfillment of his principles is paramount and above all other concerns, and contrary facts on the ground or opinions of others are very unlikely to alter his view. A dishonest ideologue is even worse, of course. And there’s a good chance he will be, for, as I said, people lie, and in this particular case, with a fanatical ideologue, lies can have big consequences to many, often resulting in authoritarianism. Dishonesty is simply something we must accept in a democracy, that is, if we are to have it, which, as Winston Churchill averred, is the worst possible system except for all the rest.
As I suggested before, no one perpetuates the idea of public service and their personal sacrifice, and the sacrifices of their peers–––even their opponents (usually only when dead, though!)–––more than a politician, which is more often than not simply another means of self-justification. It nauseates me when I hear politicians praise one another for their service in obsequy at funerals, as though they suffer great travail out of duty or encounter untoward danger when seeking power over the rest of us. Heroes among them are few and far in between. It is simply self-praise for a predilection for meddlesomeness. I do not mean to say that political achievement is never actuated by good intentions with even noble ends in mind. But I think there is usually more selfishness behind it than noblesse oblige, and that in at least equal measure there is a desire to fulfil personal ambition, even glory, and certainly to gain the satisfaction that comes from having power and control over others, not to mention their approbation. A politician by his very nature is something of a narcissist, some being more of one than others. I don’t find such people worthy of admiration, generally, though I confess I do make exceptions. But this isn’t about the exceptions–––it’s about most of them.
As for patriotism, it is an emotion akin to supporting a favorite sports team. A perfectly human one, mind you, but a feeling rooted in tribalism. It is not altogether dissimilar to what gang members feel about their band of brothers. And the various symbols that accompany it–––flags, songs, and statues and such–––are akin to a gang’s or sport team’s various totems. Love of country is love of an abstraction, one that is idealized, usually a conception that doesn’t even exist in the real world. This is not to suggest that I am personally devoid of such feelings, as I am human and being human I too have tribal feelings; but I do view them as primitive, and not especially worthy of rational men, something reason should seek to overcome, control, and not feed. Such emotions, these clannish feelings of patriotism–––or in its more energetic manifestations, nationalism and jingoism–––are the source of considerable evil in the world, a principal cause of many, no most horrible wars and much suffering.
With that said, I do separate patriotism–––the love of country and the (not uncommon) feelings of one’s country’s superiority or exceptional nature–––from duty to country. By that I mean the sense of duty owed to the society that has offered one certain benefits and protections, and also the duty to one’s neighbors and family, or more broadly speaking, the duty to one’s countrymen. I have a rather Socratic view of this, which is to say, I obey the laws of my country and fulfil the duties assigned to me (within the limits of good conscience and what I deem to be morally right), such as paying taxes, not committing crimes, obeying contract laws, and even defending it when it becomes necessary. Much as Socrates refused exile instead of death when found in violation of Athenian law of corrupting the youth and such–––a society from which he said he gained much and, he believed, had a duty to obey–––I think one acquires a certain set of duties just by living in a society and must adhere to the consequences of its laws. I do see limits to this, and a place for conscientious objection. I do not subscribe to the Socratic view that one owes his very life to the state, though I think one can argue we sometimes owe a great deal. This will obviously vary by the kind of societal arrangements we have, and the benefits we derive from it. While I might not have explicitly signed-up for or accepted these duties, neither did I explicitly deny the benefits or opportunities bestowed upon me, many or even most of which I took for granted. Therefore, my acceptance of those duties is at least to some degree implied by my having also freely taken advantage of the benefits bestowed upon me. The matter of choice certainly enters into the matter and can be a mitigating factor. We do not have a choice as to where we are born or even in many instances where we sometimes end up living. There are times the institutions of a society are so unjust that they must be resisted at great cost, and thereby other duties are justifiably nullified.
My political views can be summarized fairly simply. I subscribe to tolerance, not of everything, but of differences that obtain in society that do me no harm, and, therefore, to pluralism; believe that the material goods and assets fairly acquired by others belong to them to own and dispose of as they see fit, with some constraints (such as not causing undue suffering by virtue of one’s use of the property); believe in the rule of law, and not the caprice of men (understanding that civil disobedience is sometimes defensible); hold that people ought to have the right to choose their leaders; believe that minorities have rights that need to be protected from oppressive majorities; accept the role of logic and science, which is to say, reason, and as such I eschew both superstition and ignorance. I therefore suppose I am properly characterized as a liberal, to resurrect the once venerable appellation that has been sullied in recent decades.
I do not hew to any overarching system of ends from which all other social principles are derived, which characterizes an ideologue–––that is, beyond the most rudimentary kind of moral principles that can be derived from conjoining two distinct concepts into one, namely, impartiality and rationality, the former meaning without bias, the latter meant in the psychological sense of rational behavior. The conjoint principle of impartial rationality underlies a moral code that can be universal, which is to say, applicable everywhere, by everyone, and at all times. We know, for example, it is irrational for one to choose his own suffering (or death) without another, greater reason (such as to avoid greater pain, as surgery might require, or to protect a loved one), and if we act impartially, we extend this basic, rational prohibition to others, and without regard to the benefits or disadvantages for one’s own self or others about whom we care. This is a long way of saying that the guiding principle of universal morality is to avoid causing unjustified suffering, and that all other just principles are derived therefrom.
No one could reason that we ought to promote happiness as a universal requirement, though, or some other conception of the good, for there is no objective standard of reference for such ideas upon which all rational people would agree. However, there is such a standard for suffering and death, and specifically for their avoidance, that is, without an overriding reason. It is a condition of rationality. Conceptions of the good–––the things we believe we ought to promote or act upon for society as a whole or for people individually––cannot be similarly universalized as requirements (unlike a rational prohibition, the avoidance of suffering) to apply to everyone in a way that all rational people would agree, for there are no objective standards of reference to validate what one person thinks is good versus another’s conception. Nothing in rationality or reason suggests we should prefer one conception of good over another, but it does require we not seek to suffer (or die) for its own sake.
Democratic political systems are theoretically manifestations of our ends, our desires, which reason can lead us to fulfill by various means–––but ends that are in and of themselves not determined by reason, as David Hume famously showed, but are desires arising from passion. Reason does provide us with means to ends, though, and can aid us in avoiding suffering unless justified, a principle we all would extend to others if we act impartially. We can also formulate exceptions to rules dictated by impartial rationality, rules such as do not lie or kill, when given specific facts. The justification can be made by using the same formula–––universalizing it impartially such that I, too, or another whom I care about, could as easily be the victim or beneficiary of it, given the same essential facts of the matter. Thus, thereby, one might universalize an exception to a rule against lying to protect an individual from a life-threatening circumstance, e.g., telling the Nazi one is not hiding Jews in the basement–––or formulate that the suffering that will surely attend war will be outweighed by the lives it will save and greater suffering it will prevent. This, impartial rationality, is the formula by which all political (and economic) rules and acts ought to be judged, indeed, by which all social acts ought to be judged. My ethical and political philosophy can be summed up in two words, namely, impartial rationality, and I submit it is the very essence and sine qua non of liberalism.
There are things that trouble me about self-described leftists. Foremost among them is their certainty about how others ought to live their lives. But also one of the left’s hallmark characteristics is the focus on motives or on “good” intentions, and the emphasis on what lies behind an act or prescription, that which it is assumed gives the act its moral meaning and merit. I reject this Kantian outlook, though I accept much else of what Immanuel Kant says about morality, especially in relation to impartiality (his categorical imperative, though flawed as he has devised it, is essentially a formula to achieve impartial universality), and also his defense of democracy and individual liberty. Morality is about what we do, though, not simply about what we feel or believe, or about our intentions. Sentiment and belief are worthless, that is, unless followed by the right act. Would that it were as easy as simply believing a certain way! In this leftists share much with various religious doctrines, most notably Christian doctrines that consider morality to be more about what we believe than about what we actually do.
And as with Christians of various stripes, some on the left also believe there is something impure about wanting or acquiring property, or to make a profit in the process of exchange, expending labor, investing one’s goods to acquire even more, or even by serendipity. The New Testament itself tells us that it is hard for the rich to enter Heaven. The profit motive is seen as being selfish, a character flaw, and one to be eschewed. As if self-proclaimed selflessness and the satisfaction derived thereby were not in and of itself a form of hubris and selfishness. Profit is conceived as something not based in moral desert, and profit-taking is seen as a zero-sum proposition, whereby someone gains, someone loses. The leftist sometimes subscribes more to a kind of theology than empirical economics. This disdain for commerce and profit dates back at least to Plato’s Laws. And while it is less important to Christian thought today, especially in Protestant theology, it is manifest throughout early Christian literature and Scripture, and it was profoundly influential in the development of many leftist doctrines.
So-called capitalists (I am not one–––I believe both capitalist acts and socialist acts can be justified, and not in a “system” consisting only of one at the exclusion of the other) are wrong to say capitalism is justified because it is more efficient than state-ownership of economic goods or state-controlled pricing––even though an abundance of empirical evidence suggests that this is the case. Efficiency is not a moral criterion. Taken to an extreme, a strict utilitarian argument could leave a great many people impoverished or enslaved in order to maximize average prosperity. This is the great flaw with libertarian economic arguments favoring profit above all else in commerce, such as some of the arguments made by economist Milton Friedman. Private property and its disposition–––how we use it, can be justified on moral grounds, when it is property that is fairlyacquired (not mystically instantiated by labor, a la Locke, Marx, and Rand––which would bestow property on both oxen and horses), but also only when its use does not cause others to suffer, for morality always trumps efficiency.
The political right bases much of its dogma on moral desert. Rightists often ignore the singular advantage of good fortune, e.g., being born in a particular place and time, genetic advantages, and having particular experiences such as accidents of coming in contact with the right people at the right time, including a particular kind of upbringing. They ignore luck, in other words. They imagine the things they acquire result entirely from their own effort–––a kind of magical thinking. The corollary is that the privations of others are in some manner their own fault–––and often enough believed to result from slothfulness or shiftlessness, or in some cases because god wills it to be so. They ignore the advantages bestowed upon them that they had nothing to do with, ones others did not have through no fault or moral deficiency of their own. Consequently, they often are more loath to share their gains, for example, through taxation, notwithstanding the fact that simple luck and the benefits of society (protection of the law) might have made possible much of what they have.
People on both the right and the left make a fetish out of democracy, but neither side really cares much for it when they don’t like the result. Democracy is a very messy kind of business––and, let’s face it, people are often not very smart and they sometimes even operate against their own interests, or at least what others (including me) believe to be in their interest–––and that’s part of the point. Who gets to decide this? And why should someone else be in charge of deciding my interests or, similarly, why should I be in charge of deciding another’s? I am not fond of stupid people coming together at the ballot box to tell me how to live. On the other hand, there’s little evidence to suggest that smart people are any better, and, plenty of evidence to suggest they can be equally or even more dangerous when given unencumbered power. There is unfortunately no good alternative to democracy, certainly not authoritarianism or anarchy, though I’d take my chances with the latter over the former. Over time, democracy tends to work out, but not always––and the tyranny of the majority always remains problematic, which is why a system of law and representative procedure are necessary to protect individual rights from mob rule or from the opinion of the moment–––laws made by elected representatives who, though largely dishonest and self-serving themselves, are still much more likely through reflection and compromise to come up with something more sensible than what we’d get with a direct democracy.
Of course, leftists often prattle on about “the people”–––holding this disembodied abstraction as their special and abiding interest. They make a fetish of the poor too, and yet, studies show they do little themselves out of their own pocket for the poor. The reality is that much of what “the people” really desire is eschewed by the left, that is, their superstitions, tastes, values, and habits. The left has contempt for their unwashed ways–––ways they would hope to change to suit their conception of how “the people” ought to be, as opposed to how they really are. So the left comforts itself, deludes itself, really, with a belief that “the people” are just being misled and are ignorant of the true facts, and if they only knew them, they’d come running to their righteous cause. The unlettered and uncultured ways of the underclass are seen as manifestations of their victimization in the class struggle. Of course, this is mostly rubbish, for the rabble genuinely prefers its rabbling ways, and even think their would-be do-gooders on the left consists of wild-eyed, impractical kooks. In reality, “the people” have disdain in equal measure for their would-be protectors as the latter truly have for them; but they are not in denial about it. This is not to say that I am a fan of the mores of the unwashed masses. I am not a devotee to some wooly-minded abstraction about “the people” or “the working man,” nor do I believe in some sort of special virtue of the poor. Such nonsense has helped give rise to Trumpism, a modern form and American species of fascism, in our own time, and in no small measure facilitated by the pandering of the media. I reject the idea on empirical grounds that one economic class is inherently more virtuous than another, or even that virtue accompanies literacy and education, for it plainly doesn’t. The rise of Hitler, after all, occurred in arguably the most literate society on earth in the early 1930s.
The political right is of course fascinated by and loves authority, despite its occasional paeans to individual liberty. In reality, liberty is the furthest thing from the typical rightists’ mind, especially as it pertains to the liberty of others. Liberty for themselves, maybe, though the typical rightist is quite enamored of structure and hierarchy. They require strong father figures to tell themselves and especially others how to behave, to provide rules of conduct for society, and of course, to punish the wicked who violate them. They like order, regularity, predictability–––and they generally deplore non-conformity. They also share with the left a disdain for people with whom they disagree, and at their most ideological, they are every bit as intolerant. People on the ideological left, of course, imagine they are more tolerant, but they often are not, and left to their own devices many would just as soon have people with whom they disagree ostracized or put in a re-education camp.
The right seems to have a special love of symbolism and abstractions such as flag and country, the latter being more idealized than anything, and often enough based on some halcyon time from the past that never really existed as they imagine it did. They seldom love their countrymen as they really are; rather, they love those who think as they do and more often than not they despise the rest. So love of country is quite conditional.
The right also is especially apt to see punishment, retribution, as the proper solution to get others to obey and to obtain justice, whereas the left is more inclined to rehabilitation and second chances. It is perhaps not unexpected therefore that the right prefers strongmen as leaders, whereas the left prefers nurturers. Both are susceptible to cults of personality. In fact, the populations constituting the greatest cults were under leftist rule in the 20th century, notably the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. People on the right and left are not nearly as different from one another as they’d like to believe in terms of their vulnerabilities and naiveté. It is not surprising that many on the right tend to be religious and seek the ultimate father figure in their belief in a supreme being who brings order to the universe. People on the left often settle for some cosmic notion of justice––natural law or a dialectical progressivism––social forces that inexorably lead to the left’s idealized version of the just society–––but they also can put great store in charismatic leaders who are seen to be more “caring” for people, more “mothering” nurturers as opposed to the stern father figures that the right so often prefers.
Finally, lest someone mistake my point of view, I believe so-called moderation can be as much a fetish as the various shibboleths of the right and left­­­, and that moderation it is more a matter of temperament or technique than a well-formulated position. At its worst it can be a cowardly outlook, compromising when there should be no compromise. At its best it can be accepting compromise for a greater good as a matter of tactical necessity. There can be no truly “moderate” political view, for what would that be–––something in between true and false or right and wrong? An Aristotelian mean of sorts? What I am arguing for, here, is a liberal outlook, properly understood, and I am arguing against tribalism, silliness, and pretense. I am not promoting cynicism, but I am promoting skepticism. I am arguing against both leftist and rightest comprehensive and invariant systems from which all principles are held to flow, and instead, arguing that social principles should flow from logic and evidence, and that before formulating a position, that we should consider how the essential properties of the facts at hand bear on other, similar instances, and ask ourselves if such a position can be willed impartially to apply to all without regard to how we ourselves might benefit or lose in the same circumstances. I am arguing for making exceptions to principles based on universalizable and impartial prescriptions. Most of all, I am arguing for the conjoint principle of impartial rationality–––and for healthy skepticism about those who presume to arrange our lives through political activity. Such people are necessary to a well-ordered and just society–––and they will be with us as long as there are more than a handful of people–––but these people and their ideas always must be put into proper perspective and viewed through a skeptical lens.

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, and philosophy. He resides with his wife in Colorado. He is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. He has been writing about and warning against Fascism in America and Trump for several years.

Not Your Grandfather’s Republican Party: Takeover by the crypto-Confederacy and Trumpism

By Michael E. Berumen

(Originally published in Liberal Resistance Nov 8, 2017)

The American Civil War was finalized in a military sense, but it was never entirely settled politically or culturally. Its residual embers have remained a part of our national makeup for over 150 years, and efforts to rekindle and stoke the fire by various means persist, and today that seems particularly evident, perhaps more so than at any other time since the late Sixties with the ascendancy of the American Independent Party and George Wallace on the national scene. There were, of course, several divisive issues in the Sixties, and the Vietnam War and the military draft were not least among them. Race, however, was front-and-center in the national consciousness in the midst of marches for justice, slaying of civil rights workers, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., unrest and discord in major urban areas, increased economic dislocation in the white working class, and the rise of the Black Power movement among African Americans.

In time, all of this seemed to die down to occasional rumblings, and by the end of the Reagan years in the 1980s, race seemed to be less of a strategic political issue at the forefront of our national consciousness, and more of an ongoing and tactical project. But those who were comfortable in their jobs, and who had their houses and substantial 401(k)s, who found amusement in the mundane inanities of Cheers and Seinfeld, and who were fueled by Starbuck’s on their way to work … along with academics, literati, and media … did not always pay heed to what was going on within the lower economic strata among whites and blacks, especially as the economy converted from its manufacturing basis to financial and service industries; as our once vibrant urban areas deteriorated; while the drug problem became increasingly widespread; as African Americans were jailed and convicted at disproportionate levels; and the fact that just old-fashioned race bigotry never lost ground in large swaths of America, especially among the uneducated, though by no means exclusively so.

Add to all of this several other factors. Many old-time values and mores were being replaced by discomfiting things such as women having increased opportunities and independence outside of the home; a loss of the centrality of maleness; a decline in religion’s significance in people’s lives, and even disparagement by educated elites, denigrations manifest in media and even in popular “yuppified” entertainment; people of different ethnicities or national origins, invariably of darker pigmentation, becoming more prominent in American life and worse, perceived as having unmerited advantages; and an apparent decline in America’s importance and role in the world, a loss of the power that was inherent in simply being an American.

And thus we have the fuel necessary to be enlivened by the erstwhile dormant embers that, while not ever entirely extinguished, were relatively quiescent and hidden from view in recent decades. The catalyst event for a new conflagration was the rise of Trump and Trumpism, which elsewhere I have argued is Fascism recast to suit American sensibilities, but with all of its essential historical and philosophical features. The thing that enables it, however, is something that has been percolating for a very long time … indeed, since 1865 … and that is a kind of crypto-Confederacy that extends beyond the borders of the eleven original Confederate States of America. While some geographic similarities do remain, it is much more widespread, and as much as anything, it is a state of mind that transcends physical boundaries. And as with the Confederacy of old, its outlook relates to race, culture, and exclusivity. More specifically, it holds that the white race is entitled to suzerainty over all other races; it fosters cultural values that support male power, religious hegemony, and mythologized nationalistic symbols and codes of both honor and fealty; and it manifests the essential features of nativism, fear of the “other” and a desire to be isolated or at least immunized from exogenous influences. These were the very same ideas promoted by the secessionists of 1861. Today, however, rather than secede, the idea is even more aggressive in a sense, and that is to take total control. And while I do not think it will be successful in the long run, it has already proven to be at once highly disruptive and corrosive.

The vehicle for all of this, curiously, has been the modern Republican Party, the erstwhile party of the great liberator, Abraham Lincoln. But it is not your grandfather’s GOP. Far from it. Indeed, today, it has much more in common with the Southern Democrats of old than it does with the early Republicans, which was the progressive “liberal” party of its time. The transformation was gradual. Of course, the liberal point of view in the 19th century in both America and Britain was in support of free-trade and opposed to protectionism and tariffs … the latter of which were central to the doctrines of conservatives and populists in both countries (interestingly, many contemporary Republicans have turned their backs on those notions). As a consequence, it is not surprising that the Republican Party also became the more commercially-oriented party. On social issues, and particularly on matters of race, it was more open, pragmatic, and progressive compared to the Democrats until much later. The Republican Party was the party of abolitionism, of course, so it is not surprising that many African Americans who were able to vote aligned with Republicans until well into the next century. The Great Depression resulted in some significant changes in the Democratic Party as FDR cobbled together disparate ethnic and economic groups with a shared interest in dealing with economic privation in the New Deal era. But perhaps the most significant shift occurred in the 1960s after the Civil and Voting Rights Acts. This was the beginning of the end of the dominance of the Democrats in the southern states. Racial attitudes had not changed much in the South … and lynchings, church bombings, and Ku Klux Klan rallies with burning crosses were by no means a thing of the past,

In 1964 and 1965, shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination and with unparalleled legislative prowess, President Lyndon Johnson wielded sufficient power to bend the Congress to his Texas-sized will. Probably no president before or since had as much legislative clout as did LBJ during that period. According to Bill Moyers, “When he signed the act he was euphoric, but late that very night I found him in a melancholy mood as he lay in bed reading the bulldog edition of the Washington Post with headlines celebrating the day. I asked him what was troubling him. ‘I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come,’ he said.” That was prophetic, for indeed it was true and remains true today. It did not happen overnight, but it did happen in a relatively short period of time.

Enter Richard Nixon in the late 1960s, who effectively used code phrases such as “law and order” and the “silent majority” to arouse white anxieties during a time of considerable social unrest, which brought over an increasing number of working class whites in both southern and northern states, if not in actual party registration, at least in terms of voting practices, including leaders and members of labor unions who had historically been part of the Democratic Party. Many evangelical Christians still remained in the Democratic Party and helped a Southern Baptist from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, get elected in the mid-Seventies; but they soon would become solidly wed to the GOP with Ronald Reagan (a once divorced, non-church going, Hollywood actor!) who effectively used both Nixonian memes and vocabulary and Christian organizations, such as Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, in order to appeal to so-called values voters. This was the final straw and solidified the Republican grip on the southern states, a grip that has not changed since. GOP strategists were well aware that changing demographics represented a long-term problem for them with the browning of America; younger, more educated voters, and women who tended to vote more along liberal lines; and along with a concomitant decline in the influence of party bosses and party loyalty more generally. To forestall this trend, the GOP operatives worked diligently to gain control at both local and state levels, thereby building a strong backbench for national politics, whilst Democrats were more focused on national issues, special interests, and identity politics. In so doing, Republicans were successfully able to rejigger voting districts to favor mostly white strongholds, all while simultaneously making voter registration as difficult as possible for people of color. They have not abandoned that project.

There is another aspect to the GOP that must be addressed. I have already mentioned that it is not a co-incidence that commercial interests would become aligned with the Republican Party early in its formation, for free trade, progress, and industrialism … all attributes of modernity … were also part and parcel to the progressive outlook of the time. Indeed, the Democratic Party was far more oriented towards populism, agrarian concerns, and cultural conservatism. Prior to World War II, the GOP had little interest in foreign adventurism or the perennial military squabbles of the Old World. Indeed, in the aftermath of World War I, a decidedly isolationist outlook established a foothold in both parties, but especially in the GOP under the likes of leaders such as Senator Robert Taft, Sr. Only after World War II and during the Cold War did the GOP become the party most identified with a robust defense. The 1950s and 1960s represented the heyday of the defense and aerospace industry as an economic sector, and this was a time when there was a considerable confluence of industrial and military interests, a phenomenon that a concerned President Eisenhower presciently presaged. The commercially-oriented Republicans are a more educated class as a whole, and, as a consequence, generally more socially liberal than those who are primarily motivated by traditional values. The former’s interests are more parochially self-serving, and they wink and nod at their less educated confreres, whose values they do not share, whilst pandering just enough to retain the latter’s support on issues that more directly relate to their commercial interests. I should add, some former cold-warriors and so-called neo-conservative Democrats with strong military interests would eventually join the Republican side, albeit they tend also to be more aligned with the more liberal social views of the educated commercial class of Republicans and the Democratic Party than the values voters.

Thus, today, the GOP consists of some strange bedfellows … those whose principal goal is to influence regulatory matters and to keep taxes low in order to maximize both personal and business returns … the people we might have called country club or chamber-of-commerce Republicans in a prior era, and people whose social views tend to be more moderate to liberal; a much smaller subdivision of the former group, namely, the so-called libertarians, who want the foregoing along with minimal government intrusion in all of its forms, including the military and its worldwide footprint; and what is the largest segment, today, the values-oriented Republican, whose motivations are largely cultural, and, to no small degree, more rooted in disaffection and disillusionment. While the first group is not the largest segment, it has historically been the most powerful one in the party, and perhaps not surprisingly because, after all, they have had the money. Moreover, a large part of the aspirational middle-class, the cloth coat Republican of yore, those who wanted to become affluent, and could therefore identify with many of its principles in relation to taxes and business, could not identify with some of the cultural issues typified in the southern states, and found itself increasingly alienated from party politics, thereby becoming unaligned with either party. The power structure also began to change and fragment with so-called political finance reform, where large collections of individuals were permitted to pool their money into powerful groups aligned on issues and candidates, often centered on cultural matters, and also with the advent of the internet and social media, where traditional media … adhering to at least some journalistic, editorial standards … were no longer monopolizing the dissemination of information, and where large audiences could be targeted and accessed at a very low cost.

The Republican Party today is not the Republican Party of Abe Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt; indeed, it could not be further removed. It is not even the party of Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, all of whom would be appalled at the white-trash vulgarianism that has taken hold of it. It is dominated by the crypto-Confederacy, a consequence of civil rights legislation that alienated Southern Democrats, and a consequence of some of the things both Nixon and Reagan fostered. Today, the party is led by a neo-Fascist, Donald Trump, a would-be authoritarian who, like any good Fascist, sees truth as relative, permeable, and flexible, and who sees his and the state’s interests as inseparable, and whose allies on the so-called alternative right have burrowed their way into the halls of power at every level. It would be convenient to ascribe his rise to an electoral accident, FBI Director Comey’s Clinton investigation, and the Russians, but the groundwork laid by a growing crypto-Confederacy made someone like him increasingly likely. One of the positives might be his utter bumptiousness, for a smoother operator could be even more dangerous. But by the same token, someone who is clearly mentally disturbed has the nuclear codes, which is unsettling notwithstanding his ineptitude in carrying out certain things. Several of the cultural qualities of crypto-Confederates (increasingly less crypto as I write, given that the President’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, is publicly claiming that the Civil War could have been prevented through “compromise” and the treasonous General Robert E. Lee is “honorable”) are not far removed from several aspects of Fascistic doctrines, and it is therefore not surprising that the latter … typified by the likes of its modern theorist and ideological revanchist, Steve Bannon, Trump’s political Rasputin … was easily able to co-opt the former.

Meantime, a cowardly crew of sycophants and sinecurists who once denounced Trump and Trumpism clings to power in the Congress as part of the Republican majority. While whispering disapproval when it suits them, they do nothing to curtail the cancer that is Trumpism lest it interfere with their own popularity in their gerrymandered districts, or so that it does not interfere with or derail their cynical preference of getting some of their pet projects signed into law, notwithstanding this plague that has poisoned our political culture and imperiled the country’s moral authority, indeed, jeopardized the integrity of the rule of law and our most sacred institutions. Spinelessness of this sort has not been seen in the United States Congress since the late 1850s, I am not able to predict what is going to happen to the Republican Party. I can only say what I hope will happen, and that is that the silver lining to this otherwise dark cloud of Trumpism will be the destruction of the Republican Party as we know it. Of course, along with it I hope the edifice upon which Trumpism is built, the crypto-Confederacy, and Trumpism itself, are diminished and then stamped out permanently. Obviously, there are some within the party who are discomfited by Trumpism, and a good many independents who are unaligned but who hew to the center or center-right and who find Trumpism unacceptable. While I am a lifelong, liberal Democrat, I also see the necessity of a loyal opposition party that is at once vibrant and strong. It is my hope that out of the ashes, should our institutions weather this storm, that a new and responsible center-right party will arise, one that is more like the Republican Party we knew, the party of Lincoln, TR, and Eisenhower … a party that believed in the virtues of free markets, but that did not elevate that belief into an inflexible religious doctrine; a party that sought to mitigate the privations of the least among us and promoted opportunity for everyone; a party that believes in justice, the rule of law, and the right of everyone to be treated equally under the law.

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, and philosophy. He resides with his wife in Colorado.

America's First Fascist President

Note: republished in LiberalResistance on 10-24-16

It has been nearly two years, now, since I first went on record and predicted Donald Trump would become a major political force and the eventual nominee of the Republican Party, and, perhaps, even president. And so it has come to pass. Many of my friends at the time thought I had lost my mental bearings. I have not in the meantime changed my mind about either Trump or Trumpism.  I was personally less than enthusiastic about the alternatives, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, though I much preferred either of them over Trump. As much as I worry about Donald Trump in the White House, today, I am nearly as worried about an ominous undercurrent in the US that is at once large and powerful, and one that will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future. It is a clear and present danger to the nation and, hence, it represents a danger to the world. It is nothing less than a Fascistic movement in the country and, at least for the time being, the leader of the movement occupies the most powerful position in the United States. 

When I was young, it was a commonplace on the political left to brand our rightist opponents as Fascists. More often than not, it was used as a facile pejorative, and without much real thought to the lexical or historical meaning of the word. We knew it was bad, representing things that we eschewed, and to identify the opposing right with brutal authoritarian regimes seemed appropriate enough to us, and why not the worst kind. What, after all, could be worse than Nazis, that is, if one wanted to brand something as evil! The appellation was often overused and used inaccurately. It thereby lost much of its significance over time, so today, when it is used appropriately, it is sometimes characterized as hackneyed. In more recent years, it has not been uncommon even to hear rightists use the term to describe leftist thought or activists. Bill O'Reilly, the erstwhile loudmouthed, bully-broadcaster on Fox News, was guilty of this kind of abuse ... to cite just one recent example, he called David Silverman, the leader of an American atheist group, as being  fascistic for his steadfast positions against organized religion and his support of separation between church and state.

I have long said Trump was a Fascist, and his core followers are either Fascists or enablers of Fascism, which to my mind is a distinction without an important difference. Others reject this, describing him as a mere populist or garden-variety authoritarian, because, after all, the unlettered and historically ignorant Trump would not even be able to define Fascism. Therefore, how could he be one? And his followers, they would have us believe, are just gullible innocents oppressed by their circumstances and victimized, effectively beguiled by a demagogue, and held hostage by his hateful rhetoric. I believe this is complete nonsense. I should like to posit that Trumpism is indeed closely linked to the ideas of historical Fascism; that Trump himself has all of the essential qualities of a Fascist leader; and what is more, that his partisans, wittingly or unwittingly, are a part of a fascistic movement. It does not matter that they do not know the etymology or the history of Fascism, or that they have not read about and are unable to articulate the theoretical underpinnings of historical Fascism. They in fact support many of its main ideas, and for all practical purposes, they are therefore, themselves, Fascists. Much like the millions of Germans who denied that they were Nazis after the war because they were not card-carrying members of the Party, we can no longer allow this faux and obfuscating distinction (i.e., I support Trump and Trumpism, however, I am not a Fascist) to be swept under the rug and ignored.

Contrary to a now common description, Trumpism is not simply a form of populism, although it shares some of its characteristics. Some liberals, especially in the political, academic, and pundit classes, are seriously guilty of whitewashing and, thereby, diminishing Trump and Trumpism's insidious character by referring to it as populism, and then by qualifying it further by speaking of the several grievances of its largely white, uneducated constituency. It enables them to evince sympathy for the perceived legitimate complaints and anger of the (supposed) underclass, thereby avoiding any accusations of elitism, while remaining critical of Trump himself, essentially offering excuses for the reprehensible behavior ... hate, violent overtones, jingoism, racism, and misogyny ... of his supporters. Always looking for sociological explanations for their fellow man's depravity, liberals' abiding sense of fairness and caring for the downtrodden (who themselves often enough could care less about the liberals or their views) can sometimes obscure their perceptions of the reality of venal, evil forces. This was true in the 1930s, and it is just as true now. Rational men on both the right and the left at the time completely misunderstood what Hitler understood well, namely, that much of politics is not a rational calculation and there is a dark underside of human nature that can be exploited, especially when one can dehumanize someone seen as responsible for one's real or imagined privations. We see some of this misunderstanding today. One consequence of this kind of faith in rationalism is a tolerance of the intolerable by distancing his supporters from Trump, himself, and from TrumpismI think this is a mistake, and, at least sometimes, even disingenuous and cynical, as though they represent potential voters for the right side, our side, and thus we cannot afford to alienate them

I wish to call them out at every turn, for the fact is that Trump's followers' views are deplorable, much as his opponent Hillary Clinton said, and Trump is the catalyst and lens for refracting their vile beliefs. Trumpism would not be possible without them. He is the catalyzing agent. It matters not that some may even be our friends or relations.  I make an exception only for the mentally incompetent. Liberals and conservatives both need to call a spade a shovel and stop excusing the inexcusable. 

Populism has taken various forms on the political right and left in different times and in different parts of the globe. It has a long history, at least dating back to Pericles in Athens and Julius Caesar in RomeBroadly speaking, in modern times, populism is a political movement that centers on economic grievances, primarily, though not exclusively, by workers, the less affluent merchant class, and small farmers, against the economic, social, and intellectual elites who are perceived as the causes of their privations. Andrew Jackson might well be the best example of an early populist leader in the US, and to date, the only truly populist president. The Populist Party of the 1890s consisted of farmers and some labor unions that denounced a system, whereby, in the words of David M. Kennedy and Lizabeth Cohen’s  American Pageant (2005), “the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few." One of the great populist leaders of this era and into the early 20th century was Williams Jennings Bryan, a charismatic, religious orator, and sometimes presidential candidate, who railed against capitalist elites, as exemplified by his famous "Cross of Gold" speech. Huey P. Long, Sr., "The Kingfish," a governor and senator from Louisiana, led a populist movement in the Great Depression, and, had he not been killed in 1935, he might well have become president. Populism regained currency, again, in the 1950s. The historian Richard Hofstadter and sociologist Daniel Bell compared the anti-elitism and populism of the late 19th century with that of Joseph McCarthy's grievances against communism and American power elitesIn the late sixties and early seventies, George Wallace led a third-party, populist movement that centered on race segregationAnd the modern Tea Party has many elements of populism with its focus on white, male grievances with both racial and anti-immigrant overtones.

Bernie Sanders' candidacy also capitalized on some populist sentiments against the elites, with much emphasis on the real and imagined burdens of white youth and the various real and imagined malefactions of the wealthy, and it is therefore not altogether surprising, after his primary loss, that there has been a small number of converts to Trumpism, and there are some sentiments or grievances that are similar ... or if not out-and-out converts, there are people who rationalize (mistakenly, I believe) that Trump could be no worse than the alternative. This is a delusion, and a false sense of principle, when it is actually the opposite of principle, for he is much worse.  Politics is a practical affair, and principle can get in the way of principle, which is to say, ceteris paribus, when the ideal has little or no chance of succeeding, the next best thing, or the least worse thing ought to prevail. Al Gore lost the presidency resulting in a war that still has not ended, among other things, due in part to a kind of ideological narcissism on the part of those voting for Ralph Nader in Florida. 

To no small degree, the Tea Party movement was a precursor of Trumpism, and it cannot be denied that Fascism and Trumpism have characteristics of populism, and particularly in the sense that people are rallied against others who are seen as the root cause of their various misfortunes, whether the power elites in government, corporations, or "the other" represented by other nations or ethnic groupsBut there are also some significant differences between populism and Trumpism. None of the aforementioned populist movements were truly fascistic in nature, whereas, Trumpism most certainly is. 

I hasten to state that Fascism is not a systematic doctrine. It is difficult to characterize, and there is considerable debate to this day as to what constitutes true ideological Fascism. It is not an internally consistent doctrine built on a few principles such as one might find in the several socialist or free market doctrines, or in more traditional forms of authoritarian or totalitarian systems In many ways, it is quite incoherent as an ideology, and it consists of an admixture of ideas sometimes even in opposition to one another. At its root are the power of the state and the individual leader, and the identification of the former with the later. It is best, I think, to look at some general characteristics that its several strands possess, but as much as anything, also to consider the actual behaviors of its leaders and followers from a historical perspective.

Fascism has many fathers in terms of its origins and evolution; but in terms of what I'll call European "movement Fascism", a phenomenon that reached its apotheosis with Hitler and Mussolini, it is principally rooted in fin de siècle Italian, German, and French political thought, and as an offshoot of various Italian and German social movements, but particularly in Italian syndicalism and pan-German nationalismAmong the most influential thinkers were Georges Sorel, Enrico Corradini, Georg von Schönerer, Wilhelm Riehl, Oswald Spengler, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. There are others, but most influential of all, that is, prior to Adolf Hitler––was Benito Mussolini, himself, who reduced and catalyzed the views of various thinkers into a well-organized political movementHitler, of course, took it to another level, and, in the process, he nearly led the world into the abyss.

There is a myth that Trump resembles Mussolini as a person. It is often repeated, but said by people who obviously know next to nothing of Mussolini beyond the swaggering character that they see in old newsreelsPerhaps in his exaggerated attempts at machismo this is true, but it really ends thereMussolini was a learned and well-rounded man, he had an advanced degree and wrote learned papers, including one on Machiavelli's Prince. He spoke several languages ... and he was a gifted orator with cogent syntax, the latter being a great distinction from Trump, who has the vocabulary of a middling grammar school student In contrast, Adolf Hitler's learning was eclecticAside from being a brilliant orator and dramatist, perhaps only equaled by Winston Churchill in recent times, Hitler was naturally bright and retentive. He also was a gifted street psychologist, a master of branding, use of media, and marketing, much as Trump appears to be. Also like Trump, he was intellectually lazy, and uninterested in systematic learning or scholarship. His venue was the coffee house and beer hall, not the library, much as Trump’s is television and social media. While both possess remarkable powers of intuition, especially into the darker sides of human nature, it is patently clear that Hitler was the brighter of the two, as measured by the logical construction of ideas and retention of information. What is more, unlike Trump, Hitler was exceptionally disciplined in managing his public persona, in control of his political machinations ... exposing himself only very carefully ... and very rigorous in conducting his personal relationsTrump is much more impulsive and reckless. The personality comparisons are not what are important about Trump ... for there are not many, really, and they are at best quite superficial. With that said, to therefore suggest that he could not be a Fascist because he is unlike Mussolini or Hitler, is specious. Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh were both communists, too, and while as most of us humans do, they had some things in common, they were fundamentally different as people. 

So what is Fascism?  First of all, let's nip one common misunderstanding in the budIt is does not fit in the traditional categories of right and left, which is not the way the self-styled intellectuals representing either ideological extreme would like to have it, namely, that Fascism represents the ideology of the other side.  The fact that this is even possible by both sides of the political spectrum partly explains why it can appeal to many. It is nearly always presented by academics as a species of far right-wing politics ... but that is overly simplistic ... it is much more complicated than that. It is more comforting for the typical intellectual or academic to put it that way, since he is more often than not of a liberal mindset. No less than an authority than Hitler himself thought Nazism, a species of Fascism, transcended left and right, borrowed from both, and was what he called "syncretic,” In the broadest terms, here are ten characteristics one will find in the three previously successful, large-scale fascistic movements in Europe. Taken individually each attribute may be found in other kinds of movements. But taken as a whole, in combination, I believe they typify Fascism.

1. Fascism is a form of hyper-nationalism that capitalizes on two principal things ... one, strong patriotic feelings, often founded on a mythical past that never occurred, and two, the vilification of groups seen as sullying the nation and detrimental to the national interest, often represented by an ethnic or religious group, modernism, cosmopolitan elites, and outsiders more generally. ["Make America Great AGAIN."] [I am putting America first.] ["I think the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control."] (...just to name three of many--but more to follow illustrating the same point.)

2. While there certainly are elements of anti-elitist populism, Fascism also seeks to co-opt people in power, for power is its ultimate objective, and because it is more than willing to use utilitarian means to attain its ends, it will curry favor with economic, political, and intellectual elites wherever and whenever it can to secure it. [Simply look at GOP leaders and moneyed donors, many who are rational and well educated people, who previously denounced Trump, then seek to curry favor with him when he's in a position of power, and the latter’s willingness to use all the tools at his disposal of the elites that his followers decry, e.g., global interests, the media.]

3. Fascism freely borrows from both socialist and capitalist doctrines ... for power is its goal ... and there is not a systematic economic doctrine other than that which is seen as necessary to attain power and to benefit the state, co-opting whatever economic power or centers of influence are necessary to attain those ends, whether through markets, corporate interests, or popular measures with the masses ... so it is perhaps no coincidence that Mussolini was once a socialist involved in the labor movement (which he would destroy), and that Nazism had a vibrant socialist wing in its earlier years ... one eventually quashed (the Night of the Long Knives) by the mid-thirties and replaced by a kind of quasi-capitalism, an economic system best described as state corporatism or crony capitalism. ["Well, the first thing you do is don't let the jobs leave. The companies are leaving. I could name, I mean, there are thousands of them. They're leaving, and they're leaving in bigger numbers than ever. And what you do is you say, fine, you want to go to Mexico or some other country, good luck. We wish you a lot of luck. But if you think you're going to make your air conditioners or your cars or your cookies or whatever you make and bring them into our country without a tax, you're wrong."] [From Trump's chief economic adviser, Steve Moore: "Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy. I’m not even a big believer in democracy."]

4. Conspiratorial and exclusionary thinking about groups and forces aligned against the movement is part and parcel to all fascistic movements, and plays a central role in the rallying cries of its leaders, whether the bogeyman is international Jewry, a particular ethnic group, the bourgeoisie, large corporate interests, liberal elites, Bolsheviks, or the media. [On Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs,' crime and are 'rapists'."]["I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall.] [I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people (ed: that is, Arabs) were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."] ["Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population."] ["On The Wall Street Journal: 'They better be careful or I will unleash big time on them."]["We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated."]

5. When out of power, fascistic movements always declaim against the legitimacy of those in power as usurpers who, through their machinations, rig outcomes and are not the true representatives of the people or the nation. Trump declared before the election that a potential loss could only result from voter fraud and media rigging. We now know the fraud was committed by his allies, the Russians, and we should not be surprised to discover Trump and his associates were complicit in their machinations. Hints at violence if outcomes are not just (meaning a loss) are not uncommon, and he suggested as much. ["I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing many, many millions of people. In many cases first-time voters ... If you disenfranchise those people? And you say, well, I'm sorry, you're 100 votes short, even though the next one is 500 votes short? I think you'd have problems like you've never seen before. I wouldn't lead it, but I think bad things will happen".]["Polls close, but can you believe I lost large numbers of women voters based on made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Media rigging election!"] ["Election is being rigged by the media, in a coordinated effort with the Clinton campaign, by putting stories that never happened into news!"]

6Every successful fascistic movement has been led by a charismatic and often bombastic demagogue who is seen as and who claims to be the embodiment of the nation, the vessel of the national will, and as the exceptional person--one without whom the nation cannot prosper or survive. The state and its leaders effectively become one["I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created."] [After delineating the ills of the nation: "I am your voice. I alone can fix it."]

7. Fascistic movements view violence as a just means of achieving its ends, whether outside of or through the state, and law and order are common code words. Calls for violence or hints of violent recourse against opponents are common. There is often an exaggerated, hyper-masculinity on parade, with glorification of toughness and strength and power. There is a display of an authoritarian bearing, and the leader’s followers are admirers of it. ["When somebody challenges you, fight back. Be brutal, be tough."] ["When Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water."] ["If she gets to pick her judges – nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know."] ["Why can’t we use nuclear weapons."] ["You know what I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them. No, no. I was going to hit them, I was all set and then I got a call from a highly respected governor."]

8. Despite the popular appeals to "law and order," a trope of authoritarianism more generally, the fascistic conception of law lies outside of any legislative or judicial proceedings or the kinds of protections or due process enshrined by a constitutional authority. Often the law is construed as that which us willed by the individual or individuals in power. ['It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system. I had a rigged system, except we won by so much. This court system, the judges in this court system, federal court. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. Ok? But we will come back in November.'] ["The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight."] [On telling generals to violate the Geneva Conventions, US Constitution, and the Uniform Military Code of Justice: "They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me. I’m a leader; I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it."]

9A common attribute of fascistic movements is the creation of alternate realities, often with an adamant and repetitive disregard for the truth, even in the face of abundant veridical evidence to the contrary, especially when it serves the ends of the partisans or when said evidence conflicts with doctrine. ['An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.'] [(On unemployment: 'I've seen numbers of 24 percent — I actually saw a number of 42 percent unemployment. Forty-two percent. 5.3 percent unemployment -- that is the biggest joke there is in this country. … The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it's a 30, 32. And the highest I've heard so far is 42 percent.']

10. Symbolism is often an important aspect of Fascism, especially patriotic symbols that evoke feelings of group identity. The Nazis, in particular, made effective use of this. [An example, one of many, would be Donald Trump Jr.'s tweeted picture with the Trumps next to a green frog, a common alt-right/anti-Semitic and racist symbolOf course, all the standard patriotic regalia and lighting and music are part and parcel to the Trump campaign, as it is with every campaign; but there are insidious instances of using other racist and anti-Semitic memes and symbols.]

The foregoing is by no means an exhaustive list, but I believe it captures the essentials, and though right and left populist movements might share in some of these characteristics in various times and places, when taken as a whole, I think they are substantively different. I have bracketed just a small sample of statements by Trump himself, simply to illustrate and encapsulate some of the reasons why I think he meets these ten criteria. The amount of additional evidence of his fascistic nature and policies, along with his unsuitability and utter venality as a human being is simply overwhelming. The things I have remarked upon are all in addition to his hateful statements towards the disabled and women, an admission to committing physical assault, and to being a sexual predator. Not to mention his repeated failure to adhere to contracts with vendors; discriminatory practices as a landlord; and his use of racist tropes (e.g., birtherism). Then there were Trump’s threats to prosecute and jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton, if he won, or, if he lost, to not recognize the results of the election. The latter are among the hallmarks of authoritarian strongmen and authoritarian regimes everywhere.

While I think Fascism and what it conveys is an important descriptor, and one worth preserving and using when it fits, I will readily admit its overuse by the left has diminished its force and gravity. Moreover, it seems to many to be a dead doctrine, one now buried in the historical dustbin. It isn't. Setting that aside, though, the fact remains that the ascendancy of Trump and his craven Republican converts represent the most dangerous political phenomena in the US in the modern era.

The only silver lining is there is some potential that an intellectually and morally responsible center-right party will rise from the ashes, and the apparent destruction of the modern Republican Party, a party transformed (historical irony, here!) by the white flight of the post-Confederate Democrats after the Civil Rights legislation of the mid-Sixties, and an unholy alliance between self-dealing corporate welfarests and tax-reduction hounds, along with assorted disaffected racists, white Evangelicals, and white workers, a coalition cobbled together by Nixon and Reagan (the so-called silent and moral majorities, respectively), and with the help of considerable gerrymandering at the congressional level, courtesy of the likes of Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove. And all the while,  the more rational Republican establishment was winking at the crass incitements of the unlettered by the Breitbarts,  Limbaughs, Hannitys and O'Reillys of the world, believing at the end a rational man can be inserted (e.g., a McCain or a Romney), whilst the rabble are once again returned to their trailer parks, guns, and religion. It did not happen this time. I strongly suspect both Nixon and Reagan would be rather appalled by the Frankenstein monster they helped to create--culminating in a hydra-headed amalgam of the Old Confederacy, Palinism, and Trumpism. It is no longer the party of Javits, Dirksen, Eisenhower, or T.R. (who left the party, despite today's ahistorical Republican hagiography of him), let alone the party of LincolnToday it is the party of the ultimate vulgarian, Donald Trump.

Even with Trump's impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment, or a defeat for a second term, I still worry about the possibility of violence, an intractable divide in our population, an impotent executive with a recalcitrant congress (that already lies in wait to foil a left of center president), and an unstable world with dictators, fanatics, and jingoists run amok, some considerable amount of which is of the United State's own making. But most of all, I worry about the here and now, for Trump has access to the nuclear codes. , It has become patently evident that he has an unstable and petulant temperament. It would be a mistake to be fooled by his apparent isolationism and pacific statements in the past, for his behaviors and language have always been hyper-aggressive, and he has an overwhelming need to appear tough–––and like many of those who are especially egocentric and thin-skinned, he manifests a singular problem with self-esteem, one veiled by a very fragile ego. This is a mixture that portends disaster with such a person in charge of the most powerful military, police, and intelligence apparatus in the world. It is an odd thing that this old McGovern liberal has come to believe that the leaders of the FBI and military could be the only things that stand in the way of a president gone mad whilst the Congress and courts fiddle. I am not at all comforted by the military or state police being in such a positon, but there it is. It should have never gotten this far. One wonders how we can reverse this awful predicament ... ridding ourselves of Trump is not enough. We must eradicate Trumpism.  

Some have said that it couldn't happen here. Our institutions will prevail. Well, I suspect something similar was thought in the most technologically advanced, literate, and cosmopolitan nation on the face of the earth in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The nation of Beethoven, Kant, and Goethe. And it not only happened, it happened very suddenlyAnd in the process, both conservative and liberal forces were co-opted or eliminated. Had there been a choice for, say,  Pappan or Schleicher over Hitler in 1932-33, both imperfect men, much as Clinton or Sanders were imperfect ... but not Fascists, and both realistic alternatives at the time. Tens of millions of lives might have been spared.  I do not expect Trump will kill millions, though I am shaken to think that a man of his temperament is Commander-in-Chief But even in the absence of causing a military conflagration, I do think he could irrevocably alter the course of history in a dark and sinister way. It is therefore essential that we do everything we can to remove Trump from office and rollback Trumpism.  Liberals, moderates, and responsible conservatives must also defeat the GOP majority by the widest margin possible at all levels in 2018 to change the balance of power in the Congress and also in state offices. Only then can rational conservatives begin to rebuild a responsible opposition and center-right party. Trumpism is not your grandfather's conservatism by any stretch of the imagination. The principal goal must be to utterly discredit and toss out Trumpism, no, Fascism, from the nation before it spreads any further like the virulent cancer that it is.