The New, Not Conservative, Radical Right Know Nothings

America’s first “third party” began life as a secret society called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner. If an outsider asked anything about it, its members were to answer “I know nothing”.

From Ohio History Central (the former Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society):

The Know-Nothing Party, also known as the American Party, was a prominent United States political party during the late 1840s and the early 1850s….The Know-Nothings feared that the Catholics were more loyal to the Pope than to the United States. More radical members of the Know-Nothing Party believed that the Catholics intended to take over the United States of America. The Catholics would then place the nation under the Pope’s rule. The Know-Nothing Party intended to prevent Catholics and immigrants from being elected to political offices. Its members also hoped to deny these people jobs in the private sector, arguing that the nation’s business owners needed to employ true Americans.

From the Smithsonian’s magazine:

At its height in the 1850s, the Know Nothing party … included more than 100 elected congressmen, eight governors, a controlling share of half-a-dozen state legislatures from Massachusetts to California, and thousands of local politicians. Party members supported deportation of foreign beggars and criminals; a 21-year naturalization period for immigrants; mandatory Bible reading in schools; and the elimination of all Catholics from public office…. only those with the proper qualifications deserved full rights. Women’s suffrage was abhorrent and unnatural, Catholics were a threat to the stability of the nation, and German and Irish immigrants undermined the old order established by the Founding Fathers….

Between 1845 and 1854, 2.9 million immigrants poured into the country, and many of them were of Catholic faith. Suddenly, more than half the residents of New York City were born abroad, and Irish immigrants comprised 70 percent of charity recipients.

As cultures clashed, fear exploded and conspiracies abounded. Posters around Boston proclaimed, “All Catholics and all persons who favor the Catholic Church are…vile imposters, liars, villains, and cowardly cutthroats.” Convents were said to hold young women against their will. An “exposé” published by Maria Monk, who claimed to have gone undercover in one such convent, accused priests of raping nuns and then strangling the babies that resulted. It didn’t matter that Monk was discovered as a fraud; her book sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The conspiracies were so virulent that churches were burned, and Know Nothing gangs spread from New York and Boston to … San Francisco….

But instead of continuing to grow, the Know Nothings collapsed under the pressure of having to take a firm position on the issue the slavery. By the late 1850s, the case of Dred Scott (who sued for his freedom and was denied it) and the raids led by abolitionist John Brown proved that slavery was a more explosive and urgent issue than immigration….

But nativism never left, and the legacy of the Know Nothings has been apparent in policies aimed at each new wave of immigrants. In 1912, the House Committee on Immigration debated over whether Italians could be considered “full-blooded Caucasians” and immigrants coming from southern and eastern Europe were considered “biologically and culturally less intelligent.” From the end of the 19th century to the first third of the 20th, Asian immigrants were excluded from naturalization based on their non-white status….

[Historian Christopher Phillips concludes] that those bewildered by current political affairs simply haven’t looked far enough back into history. “One can’t possibly make sense of [current events] unless you know something about nativism,” he says. “That requires you to go back in time to the Know Nothings. You have to realize the context is different, but the themes are consistent. The actors are still the same, but with different names.”

This is why another historian, Kate Antonova, argues on Twitter that we should stop referring to Republicans as “conservative”. It would make more sense to call them “Know Nothings”, not just because of their nativism, but because of their devotion to alternative “facts”.

I’m a historian of conservatism. I’d really like to see everyone stop describing the GOP today as being conservative.

Conservatism is a philosophical approach & a policy position. The GOP is a fundraising machine for a policy platform… 

Obviously, GOP is further to the right of the Dems & for most of 20th century has been more conservative than Dems in any sense of word.

But a distinct shift has been at work for several decades & leap-frogged to the fore with Trump’s election.

Ask knowledgeable philosophical conservatives & they will tell you how unhappy they are w/ how far GOP has drifted from that position.

Trump’s GOP has become a radical right. That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s an established term w/ many examples….

So here’s a little background on where the [Right-Left] spectrum comes from and the diffs btwn philosophical conservatism and a radical right.

BTW, … I frame my course on modern European history (French Revolution to the present) as an “epic battle between reason and unreason”.

IOW, the Enlightenment posed a question to Europe: what happens if we use reason (not tradition or religion) to govern ourselves?

There follows a lot of background, not a little, on the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, Joseph de Maistre, Edmund Burke, Metternich, Bismarck, Konstantin Pobedonostsev (the Ideologist of Russian Reaction), the provincial gentry in 19th century Russia, the history of 20th century Europe, as well as socialism, fascism and nationalism.
 

And speaking of nationalism, Prof. Antonova continues:

It was always out there, not just as benign reaffirmation of the values of the Constitution every July 4 that both parties used to agree on.

There was always a resentful, white-supremacist nationalism based not on affirmation of liberalism but on hating the other.

What changed in 2016 is that a major party embraced this extreme, handed it power, and is now refusing to check that power in any way.

We have to accept that the GOP has abandoned the last vestiges of a conservatism that is cautious, that accepts the premise of rights.

This GOP is a virulent radical RT containing elements of theocracy (Betsy DeVos & evangelical base voters) & fascism (neo-Nazis)….

Current situation inherits many old battles, but is also product of new landscape brought by information revolution.

May I modestly suggest we revive the name Know-Nothings for the modern GOP? Because their denial of reality defines them, not conservatism.

European fascism twisted science to its ends, but the science it relied on – since totally debunked – was mainstream at the time.

There’s a fundamental difference in today’s radical right, which gleefully says FU to knowledge, education, demonstrable fact. 

A radical right that makes up absurd “alt facts” & presents them confidently, fully aware that base will believe literally anything… 

…as long as it’s associated with their “team” and/or serves as a hit against the other “team.” 

Liberals & conservatives in the proper sense of those words are now both (uncomfortably) covered by the shade of the Never Trump tent. 

Both accept the premise of rights & representative govt. Current president, cabinet & Congress explicitly oppose the govt they run. 

Base voters, largely white, many evangelical, cheer undermining of democracy & boo defenses of traditional American values. 

They are not conservatives. They are a radical right…. 

We’re gonna need some new words to describe this, as it continues to develop in unpredictable ways. 

But one thing is sure: the days of Reagan v Mondale are over. The Cold War is over. The “short 20th century” is over. It’s something else now.

The Beach Boys Ponder the American Experiment on This Fourth of July

From the YouTube description:
Dennis Wilson composed “4th of July” in the early 70s during the Vietnam War (his co-writer was Beach Boys manager Jack Rieley). Carl Wilson sang the song. It was supposed to be included on the Surf’s Up album, but was withdrawn after a disagreement among the band members. Dennis Wilson drowned in 1983. “4th of July” was finally released as part of the Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys box set ten years later. Carl Wilson died in 1998.

Note: Unlike most Beach Boys songs, this one was officially released only one time, in 1993 on the “Good Vibrations” box set, which is no longer sold by Capitol Records. The song was not included on the Made in California box set released in 2013.

Conan O’Brien offered additional commentary this afternoon:

Today, we Americans celebrate our independence from Britain while planning our escape to Canada.

If You’re Looking for One Factor That Explains the 2016 Election

The Voter Study Group has been studying the same 8,000 American voters since before the 2012 election. It’s “the nation’s largest, longest political focus group”. They released their findings on the 2016 election last month. 

From The Seattle Times:

The story we’ve told ourselves — that working-class whites flocked to [DT] due to job worries or free trade or economic populism — is basically wrong….

They did flock to [him]. But the reason they did so in enough numbers for [him] to win [the Electoral College] wasn’t anxiety about the economy. It was anxiety about Mexicans, Muslims and blacks.

Here’s how [the Study Group] put it in academese: “What stands out most, however, is the attitudes that became more strongly related to the vote in 2016: attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people, and feelings toward Muslims,” writes George Washington Univ. professor John Sides. He notes that the media focused on less-educated whites, but negative racial attitudes fueled by Trump were a big motivator for college-educated whites, too.

A substantial share of Trump voters “appeared to embrace a conception of American identity predicated on birthplace and especially Christian faith,” Sides found.

This is the drum [Univ. of Washington professor Christopher Parker] has been banging for years. His 2013 book on the Tea Party, Change They Can’t Believe In … used survey data to show it was not a small government movement as advertised. It was more about America being stolen from “real Americans” — a reaction triggered by the election of President Obama.

“I’ve got three words for you: scared white people,” Parker says. “Every period of racial progress in this country is followed by a period of retrenchment. That’s what the 2016 election was about, and it was plain as it was happening.” [Note: Professor Parker was one of the few who predicted DT would win.]

To be clear: Neither Parker, nor the latest research, is saying that Trump voters are all racists. Most voting is simply party-line no matter who is running. What they’re saying is that worries about the economy, free trade and the rest were no more important in 2016 than in previous elections, but [racial and ethnic] resentment spiked.

This chart from the Voter Study Group tells the story:

figure4_sides_e4aabc39aab12644609701bbacdff252

A Reminder

Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

On the eve of Independence Day, here’s an important reminder from Charles Blow, a columnist for The New York Times [with a few insertions from me]:

Every now and then we are going to have to do this: Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from [the] parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity. [He] himself is the offense. Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every staffer who shields him, every legislator who defends him, is an offense. Every partisan who uses him — against all he or she has ever claimed to champion — to advance a political agenda and, in so doing, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that [his] very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency….

The presidency has been hijacked….

This latest episode [it doesn’t matter which one] is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency. We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with [him]. His fate is their fate [not necessarily; they’ll pretend they had nothing to do with him]. They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim — rightly or not….

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king. A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it. It is what it … has been from day one: The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever [there is no “possibly” about it; we’ve never made an electoral mistake as bad as this].

We must say without ceasing, and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged. We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance [#Resistance]. We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced, in ways we cannot calculate, by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege [him]….

[He] is depending on people’s fatigue. He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics. He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass. [He] is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power. [Sad to say, but that also applies to Pence, Ryan, McConnell and the rest of their rancid crew.]

What We Have In Mind (Consciousness Again)

Last week, I suggested that consciousness is a type of brain activity, the kind that consists in having a phenomenal field that includes sights, sounds, pains and the internal monologue depicted by authors as the “stream of consciousness”.

I also recommended that we reserve the phrase “conscious of” for the most important things we’re conscious of, things like our everyday surroundings, our feelings and our thoughts, not consciousness itself. This approach would rule out questions like “Are you conscious of consciousness?” that to me seem misguided and misleading. I don’t think we’re conscious of consciousness, but rather conscious of other things.

To say that we’re conscious “of” other things is to say that the components of consciousness represent other things. Thus, some of the brain activity that is consciousness represents things outside our bodies (e.g. trees falling in the forest). Some of it represents things inside our bodies (e.g. heartburn). And some represents things that exist neither inside nor outside our bodies: abstract things like possibilities (e.g. sanity in Washington), fictional characters (Wonder Woman) and ideas (justice or the number twelve).

From an article about dreaming, which is usually considered a kind of consciousness:

One of the main functions of our brain is to constantly create a model of the world around us, a sort of virtual reality that helps us interact with our environment.

When we’re awake, that model is heavily influenced by what we are seeing and hearing and feeling. But during sleep, when there’s not much input from our senses, the brain’s model of the world is more likely to rely on internal information, like memories or expectations.

I’d add that the model is also a model of the world within us and the abstract world of memory, intention and imagination. But thinking of the model our brains create as “a sort of virtual reality” is what I have in mind (that’s a pun). It’s the “sort” of virtual reality that isn’t virtual, however. Patterns of neural activation in the brain (what the model is made of) are quite real. And it’s a model or representation of other things that are quite real too, like falling trees and sprained ankles.

One of the things that makes our conscious model interesting is that it includes events and processes that are strictly or primarily mental, like having a premonition. I don’t know if such things are representations of unconscious mental events and processes. Maybe they aren’t representations at all; maybe they’re patterns of neural activation that don’t refer to or represent anything else. But the evidence suggests that we all have a lot of unconscious brain activity that plays a very large role in what we think and how we feel.

So it would be consistent with the view I’m trying to explain that when you have something like a premonition, what you’re conscious of is a representation of the underlying brain activity (the unconscious premonition processing), as well as any related events in your body (like chills).

To sum up, the position I’ve arrived at seems to be a strange, possibly ridiculous mixture of ideas associated with two great philosophers who are generally seen as opponents: the idealist George Berkeley and the materialist Thomas Hobbes.

Berkeley (1685-1753) argued that nothing exists independently of minds: “To be is to be perceived (or to perceive)”. A person is an immaterial mind or soul. The physical world (the Earth, for example) doesn’t exist independently of our minds. Fortunately, our individual minds are able to get along because God (a kind of super-mind) synchronizes our perceptions. He makes sure that when I perceive a red apple (in my mind), you do too.

Hobbes (1588-1679) argued that nothing exists except physical stuff. We human beings, including our minds, are material things. Even God may be a kind of material being. When I see a red apple, and you see a red apple, therefore, it’s because there’s an apple out there and it’s red. That’s the whole story. 

Where I’ve ended up is to agree with Berkeley that our consciousness has the various elements in it that he called “perceptions” and “ideas”. But I agree with Hobbes that consciousness is a physical phenomenon, a very cool physical phenomenon, but a physical one just the same. And the reason my perceptions usually line up with yours so nicely is because our perceptions represent the same physical world, albeit observed from our individual perspectives. 

Something Encouraging For a Change

In today’s news, Senator Turtle Face (formally known as Addison Mitchell McConnell, Jr., Republican of Kentucky) delayed the vote on the “Less Money for Health Insurance Equals More Money for Rich People” bill. Presumably, he didn’t have enough Yes votes to pass legislation that nobody (except him and a few rich people?) likes.

This will either give the Republicans a few days to find the necessary Yes votes, or it will give opponents of the bill (of which there are many) the chance to create more No votes. Since the Senate Majority Leader had planned a quick vote on a bill he tried to keep as secret as possible, the postponement appears on balance to be a welcome development.

Proving again that he is indeed the Master Negotiator, the President put on a show at the White House today with Republican Senators, at which he announced:

This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK, and I understand that very well.

As far as we know, the President has not yet demonstrated in a single case whatsoever that he has any understanding at all of the the American healthcare system, the Affordable Care Act, or the Republican effort to repeal or replace it. Clearly, he is a Big Picture guy.

Consistent with the possibility that this is not Hell, some observers think the Republicans’ struggles are a sign of better things to come. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post writes:

The Republican health-care bill is not dead yet, but it’s in rough shape. Whether it passes or not, it has been an utter debacle for the GOP, making the Affordable Care Act they’re trying to undo more popular than ever, energizing the Democratic base, complicating the relationship between President [DT] and Congress and sowing justified distrust of Republican motives among the broader public.

It has also done something else: moved the debate on health care in America to the left and made single payer much more likely.

Even if the Senate bill fails, Republicans give up and move on to tax reform, and the status quo remains in place, this debate will have had profound effects on our politics. While the Democratic Party may have been moving to the left on health care anyway, its momentum in that direction may now be unstoppable. And the entire country will be more receptive than ever to the arguments Democrats will make. This, by the way, will also be the case if the GOP repeal effort succeeds, because it will make so much that people hate about our health-care system a lot worse.

Let me point to one politician as an illustration. For years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s position on single payer has essentially been “Maybe someday” — not opposed to it, but focused in the short term on the more urgent priority of defending and enhancing the ACA. But in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, we learn that she is now ready to take that plunge:

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she said during an interview in her Senate office last week. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Warren is not going to be the last Democrat to take this step. In fact, any Democrat who runs for president in 2020 — and there will be a lot of them — will have a hard time explaining to the primary electorate why they don’t want single payer, and most or all of them will probably say they do.

We can make an analogy with what happened in the GOP after the failure of comprehensive immigration reform [in 2013]…. The situations aren’t exactly the same, but … a dramatic political failure — whether it’s yours or the other party’s — can have profound effects on the choices politicians make about how to approach the electorate. And it’s important to understand that while there are some Democratic politicians who emphatically favor single payer and would be unsatisfied with anything less, most of them would be willing to advocate for a range of policy options, depending on what looks politically achievable and what their base demands at a particular moment.

All the ups and downs of the past eight years, from the beginning of the debate on the ACA to the end of the debate on Republican repeal plans, hold many lessons for Democrats who are still eager to address the problems in the American health-care system. Among other things, we know that voters are risk-averse, that they’re extremely sensitive to out-of-pocket costs, that they want security and that arguments about the glories of the free market aren’t going to be persuasive to them. After seeing how desperately unpopular this Republican plan is, Democrats are going to be much less afraid to defend government health care and advocate its expansion.

And they know that whatever they propose next has to be simple and understandable. We can debate whether the ACA had to be as complex as it was, but next time around, no Democrat is going to believe that you can take on President Trump with a technocratic approach to health care. Saying “Here are the 10 tweaks I’d make to the ACA” isn’t going to cut it.

That isn’t to say that whatever plans they propose won’t be fully fleshed out under the hood, but they’ll have to be presented in a way that is easy for voters to understand. And, yes, Republicans will cry about “Washington bureaucrats making decisions for you,” but Democrats are less likely to be intimidated. Ask your parents or grandparents on Medicare how they feel about their coverage — Medicare is the most popular health insurance program we have, and it’s run by Washington bureaucrats.

It’s important to keep in mind that “single payer” isn’t one thing — if you look around the world at highly developed countries, there is a spectrum of health systems with various levels of public and private involvement. But what they have in common is that they achieve universal coverage while working better and costing less than ours. We could well have 15 Democratic presidential candidates proposing 15 different kinds of single payer. Some may be highly socialized systems — what Bernie Sanders would likely advocate if he runs again — but the ones that are most appealing could be hybrid systems of the kind that have been successful in countries such as France. The way it works is that there’s a government plan that covers everyone’s basic needs, but you can also buy supplemental private insurance to get as many more benefits as you want.

Among the advantages of a hybrid system is that one can actually see a path from where we are now to there. That path runs through Medicaid, which now covers nearly 75 million Americans. What if we auto-enrolled everyone under 65 in Medicaid — it’s there if you need it, but if you have different insurance you’d prefer, go ahead and use that instead. No one would be without coverage. Private insurance would evolve into something you buy to fill in the gaps and get perks that Medicaid wouldn’t provide. Instead of covering all your health care, employers could provide the supplemental private insurance.

As a political matter, you could sell this as something that we could transition to over an extended period, and as a system that satisfies the goals of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals get the universal coverage and security they want, and conservatives get the freedom they want — if you’re rich enough to buy a supplemental plan that includes deliveries of Dom Perignon during any hospitalization, go right ahead.

That isn’t to say that Republicans wouldn’t resist and there won’t be more intense arguments about health care, because they would and there will be. But by handling this debate so terribly and proposing something so monstrous, Republicans have opened up the space for Democrats to go much further than they’ve been willing to before. It’s not impossible to foresee Democrats winning the House in 2018, then taking the presidency and the Senate in 2020 — and then taking the first steps toward making single-payer health care in America a reality. 

End quote.

What a Concerned Person Might Do

It’s Monday afternoon and the resistance is heating up. There’s going to be a big demonstration in Washington on Wednesday. A human chain around the Capitol Building has been mentioned.

Meanwhile:

legumspiro

calls

Senators love hearing from people who live in their states. They also love hearing from nice people who claim to live in their states. Such people could try calling Senators through the main Senate switchboard at (202) 224-2131. But it’s often easier to get through to a Senator’s local office, in states like, for instance, Maine, Arkansas and Ohio (see list above).

Emails don’t have as much impact, but Senators also love getting them, especially from people who live in their states (or claim to). You can tell because their contact pages usually refer to the Senators by their first names. So it’s “Contact Jeff” or “Contact Susan”.

If a person wanted to send a nice but not quite accurate email to a Senator, despite not living in the Senator’s state, a person could:

Find a city in that state.

Bring up the map for that city.

Look for a part of town where affluent people probably live (usually somewhere on the outskirts where the streets are curvy or there are lakes or a country club nearby).

Identify a pleasant street name.

Use Zillow to find a nice house on that street. (Zillow will provide the Zip Code too!)

Look for a local business, school or church and save the phone number.

Find the Senator’s contact page. (They all look like Jeff’s.)

Then a person could enter some personal data, specifying a name of their choice, an address on that nice street with a street number of their choice, the Zip Code that Zillow provided, and maybe a phone number with the relevant area code and prefix.

Unfortunately, a person would also have to enter an email address, possibly twice, so it’s good if a person has  an innocuous email address that can be used to receive garbage emails. (I have one; maybe a person should have one too.)

After that, all a person would have to do is maybe select a topic (something like “Health”), possibly type in a subject (like “Senate Health Care Bill”) and then enter a polite plea to vote No on an upcoming piece of abominable legislation that relates to health insurance.

Perhaps something like this, but using a person’s own words: 

Dear Sen. XXX: Please vote No on the Senate Health Care Bill. You know in your heart that it’s a bad bill. It will harm the people of <XXX’s state>. Reporters say that moderate Republicans always give in to the GOP leadership at the last moment. Don’t let that happen, no matter what they promise. We are counting on you. Sincerely yours, <the name that a person chose to use>

I’m not recommending this, of course, because, as President Nixon famously pointed out, “it would be wrong”. But given the stakes (many people will unnecessarily suffer and die if this legislation passes), a concerned person might do it anyway.