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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: 

The "American Idolization" of Popular Music

y Michael E. Berumen

Published in Liberal Resistance (January 16, 2018)

How did popular music become like a high school musical?  Something happened after the 1980s, and while I like a good chorus line or glee club performance just as much as the next guy, I get tired of too much Broadway and school auditorium music. It doesn’t get me out of my chair or make me want to dance, have sex, or drive my car fast. And it doesn’t take me to another place; indeed, after a while, it simply makes me want to go to another place, and just to get away from it. To be blunt, I have just about “had it up to here” with this infusion of Broadway, second-rate imitations of operatic technique, and soulless insertions of R&B in today’s bland, overproduced, under-talented, unoriginal, and formula-driven popular music, where hitting the note rather than conveying the meaning and emotion behind the lyric has become the goal. This is what we had prior to Rock ‘n Roll before the mid-fifties, that is, outside of non-sanitized jazz, which was never again a national phenomenon after the swing era. Aside from hip hop (actually, we find it slowly corrupting hip hop, too), and with few exceptions, it is what we have yet again.  

I want more voices with breaks, pops, tics, guttural sounds, ughs, ahhs, grunts, growls, groans, hiccups, and most of all, voices that project real emotional states that, in turn, conjure strong, evocative feelings in the listener. And please, already, enough (!) of all the chirruping and warbling all over the note that with a better technique might be more suitable for a Puccini aria–––the endless melisma and runs causing one to lose track of what the lyric is, and the nauseatingly gratuitous high notes, including those infernal whistle notes, the ones that get fans who act like they’ve never heard a screeching tire in an orgasmic dither–––all overdone and, more often than not, completely gratuitous or out-of-place. Moreover, these pyrotechnics are often transparent to cognoscente as little more than covers for a lack of pitch control and a lack of precision, and, in the wrong hands, it simply sounds show-offy and contrived. 

Take a lesson from Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Willie Nelson, and Louis Armstrong–––in their vocal work and phrasing there is nothing unnecessary–––nothing missing–––it all fits: every note, every breath, every pause–––everything is right ‘cuz it is sung the way it’s felt. Make it real. Stop with the pabulum and the insipidly bland talent-show stuff.  Quit trying out for the chorus line.

It would be facile and glib to blame Mariah Carey, personally, for the decline in the quality of popular music by many of today’s artists, but I will submit that her many followers have contributed to its demise and mediocrity by demanding and elevating her style. The singers who have tried to emulate her are particularly blameworthy–––entertainers whose fans characterize them as “vocalists”–––an appellation intended to distinguish them from the herd, that is, more ordinary and mundane practitioners of singing. Sorry, I want singing. I don’t mean this in a personal way. They are artists and they have to make a living, and I admire them for what they do, and I understand why they do it. There’s a market for it. Carey is of course not alone as an object of abject imitation, for it occurs in every era of music. Sinatra and Elvis both had many, as did the Marvelettes, Dylan, the Beatles, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. With few exceptions, outside of hip hop–––and even there, insofar as singing is mixed with rap–––since the early 1990s people coming onto the scene have been greatly influenced by Carey. While it's true of men as well, it is especially and not surprisingly the case with women such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Demi Lovato, and Ariana Grande, their many counterparts, and certainly various “girl” groups such as Fifth Harmony. There are exceptions, to be sure–––and some notable ones such as Amy Winehouse, Nicki Minaj, Halsey, Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus, whose musical roots and influences seem to be rather different, and who have each shown greater originality than the legions of Mariah wannabes.

The problem is twofold. Firstly, very few in popular music have now or ever have had or ever will have Mariah Carey’s unusual anatomical gifts, her vocal cords, and most specifically, her unusual ability to control her voice over a large range, that is, her ability to effortlessly and smoothly jump octaves. One can count people with these unusual natural abilities on one or two hands, and most of them are in opera. 

Secondly, and on a more critical note, from my perspective, Carey’s vocal technique, especially her overuse of melisma and belting––as formidable as her natural gifts might be–––is not altogether satisfying, and, in particular, it becomes stale when applied to nearly every song. If ever there were a case of someone over-singing by one who needs to prove nothing vocally, it's Mariah Carey. Whether or not it is her intention, it seems as though she wants to demonstrate at every turn she can sing with virtuosity, and that is often at the expense of conveying the meaning and feeling of the song–––and therein lies the major difference between stylists such as Carey and her would-be imitators versus someone like, say, Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner … or among more modern artists, Miley Cyrus or the late Amy Winehouse. One feels what they say to the bone, the technique is not the focus, they are not trying to show you how well they sing, but how they feel, that is to say, what the emotion is. Her legions of imitators who attempt to use her style invariably fall short of her skills, thereby compounding the problem.

Of course, charisma, like vocal style, is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. But it is an important and ineffable element of performance that separates the good from the great. It seems to me there is a kind of pure charisma that only certain singers can project to a great many people as opposed to a narrow fan base––-an ineffable quality that transcends the standard descriptions of vocal virtuosity, something that is embodied and exuded by the performer himself or herself in a way that others with great vocal ability or beautiful appearances cannot. It is much more than voice or striking physical appearance that makes Elvis, Janis, Madonna, and Michael different and legendary. I mention this because I think it is difficult for some to understand what it is that makes many prefer an artist such as, say, Madonna, over another whose technical vocal abilities are so obviously superior. Of course, production values and physicality (e.g., dance) are factors, but I think the biggest one is simple animal magnetism. Charisma. 

Take Mick Jagger. No one would argue Jagger has the vocal chops of, say, Jordan Smith, the fellow who won The Voice a couple of years ago, But Jordan is unlikely to fill stadia and arenas year after year for decades well into his 70s … and I would argue the difference is in part the fact that Jagger's voice exudes a kind of visceral emotion added to the fact that you can’t take your eyes off of him when he performs … he exudes magnetism through his recorded work and on stage to both men and women, and it’s something that very few artists have in such quantities, and it trumps pure technical ability every time. Charisma matters. When the rare person comes along with both charisma and extraordinary vocal ability, so much the better. Perhaps Elvis and Roy Orbison are examples. 

Of course, Jagger has more going for him than just charisma. His voice “fits the lyric. Among the most overlooked things about singing and singers are the importance of the singer’s natural voice, cadences, and intonations in terms of being appropriate for the lyrics, and thereby conveying the intention of a song. One cannot imagine Celine Dion singing a Bob Dylan song with nearly the same effect.  Or Justin Timberlake managing Gershwin’s “Bess You is My Woman Now” the way Louis Armstrong can.  I don’t see the formidable vocal talent of Christina Aguilera doing justice to Amy Winehouse’s music. Not to mention Pavarotti singing Willie Nelson’s greatest hits.  With that said, Dylan, Armstrong, Winehouse, and Nelson can be counted as among the greatest singers there are. And yet not one of them would be likely to pass an audition for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or get beyond the first round of a talent show, whereas, each of the others I mentioned by way of contrast surely would. By the same token, we probably would cringe at the thought of Dylan singing Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”

The point is that there are a multitude of ways to approach a lyric, but there are certain voices that are specially equipped to convey its meaning in an impactful and evocative way, and often these voices are not good for every genre, and they do not fit the more formulaic mold of the kind of person one is likely to find doing Broadway or singing in the church choir.  It is simply wrong to say that Bob Dylan is not as good a singer as Barbara Streisand, or that Mariah Carey is better than Amy Winehouse.  Dylan singing “People” or Carey singing “Rehab” does not make any more sense than Streisand singing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” or Winehouse singing “Hero.”

Today’s talent shows, the heirs of Star Search and American Idol, have fostered this Broadway cum poor man’s opera style of music to a fare-thee-well.  Carey’s influence is on full display in such shows. And as I say, it is not her fault. I admire her extraordinary abilities even though her style usually does not appeal to me (I prefer her first two albums when she was young and not influenced as much by her fan’s expectations over her subsequent work). But the influence she’s had on popular music has largely been negative in my view, and it is writ large on shows like The Voice and X Factor.  There have been some exceptions, notably in the country genre (though its influence, the penchant for over-singing the lyric, is felt even there in recent years), but by and large the warblers, run mavens, and the high-note show-offs (as though a soprano shouldn’t hit a high note? It’s much more impressive when she gets low to a sonorous contralto with clarity, resonance, and timbre!), and with only few exceptions, get the top slots as runners-up or winners in these shows.  What is interesting, too, is that with two notable outliers, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, none of the winners of these shows has become a superstar. Jennifer Hudson did not win (nor should she have won, speaking of over singing), but she is a special case and did manage to do very well in both the movies and recordings.  Several others did reasonably well as second stringers, but they did not make the big leagues like these three did.

I suppose to a large extent I just lament the decline in popularity of rock music and the kind of R&B and soul music that one had with the Temps, Tops, Aretha, James, and Marvin. Sorry, as talented as they are, Bruno, The Weekend, Ariana, Selena, and Demi are just not in their league in R& B, that is, not when it comes to authentically convey the emotion behind the lyrics.  Most of all, though, I regret the overproduced, synthesized, sanitized, and just formulaic approach to popular music. I understand the need for standards and technical proficiency in choral music where harmony and not standing out are important, and in staged musicals where the song is only a part of a greater story, and certainly there is the need for technical proficiency in opera where virtuosity is a must, and where too much variance from the composer’s intention is discouraged. Formula-driven music covering others’ work is necessary and fine for the glee club … but, I do not want to drive to it, hear it at the club over a vodka martini, or dance to it. There I want to feel the music under my skin.  In the final analysis, much of what we hear today is proverbial elevator music, background noise that I hear but don’t notice while I hover over the freezer confusedly in the grocery store, or wait thumbing aimlessly through magazines I’d never buy at the dentist’s office.  I am waiting for the breakout and break away from this dominant form over the last nearly two decades. I have a couple of artists in mind who are showing the way … but the question is, will the public-at-large follow? That is for another discussion at another time.

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He resides with his wife in Colorado. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business.

Trumpism is Racist and Misogynistic

Reprinted from Liberal Resistance

It is time for liberals in the broadest sense of the term to come to grips with something many have avoided, heretofore–––­­­partly from gentility, partly from denial, and partly from benign ignorance.  It is obvious that to support Donald J. Trump as President of the United States is, in effect, to support an overt, obvious, and well-documented racist and misogynist. To cite the many examples of each seems superfluous at this point. The record goes back decades, and national media have been replete with tons of recorded video and voice evidence in the last several years. It is impossible for anyone of average intelligence to think he is not a virulent, noxious racist and misogynist. To argue otherwise is either delusional or willful stupidity. There is no other explanation.  And with this said, my thesis is simple: if one offers support to an overt, obvious racist and misogynist who is in a position of great power, and this is a person that one either knows or that one ought to know is an overt, obvious racist and misogynist, then one is also, by extension, a racist and a misogynist. Because, it says that one is willing to permit such a person to enforce existing policies and make new ones that reflect these venomous sentiments, whether because one agrees with such policies or practices, or just because one is indifferent to it or less concerned about it by virtue of other issues considered more important. To support such a person makes one an accessory and therefore complicit in his malefactions, and without regard to one’s intentions.  Indifference, in this case, is every bit as pernicious as intention.
Let us examine the meaning of racism and misogyny in brief and as they stand today. I do not mean that one necessarily has a “theory” of race or about the nature of women.  It is not necessary to have a systematic theory to be a racist or misogynist.  Many do have such a theory, some elaborate, some simple, some even hidden in subtext.  By theory I mean something along these lines without all the detail and tendrils: other so-called races, particularly people of darker pigmentation, are in some sense genetically, culturally, or in some combination thereof, inferior, or deserving of suspicion, distrust, or fear. Similarly, a theory of the nature of women would be they are intrinsically inferior and subservient to men, unworthy of the same rights as men, indeed, not even worthy of full respect, which in its worst form might mean inflicting physical or emotional harm at will, or in some rarer cases, they are wholly disdained and ignored as our fellow creatures. 
These are the obvious forms of racism and misogyny.  But there are other types, and these are perhaps more common among the less overt or obvious racists and misogynists, typically found among more educated people that we might deem as elites, namely, either indifference or obdurateness, or even some combination of the two. In other words, in the former case, one simply doesn’t care or think much about what happens to people of color or to women, or one puts other priorities, say, policies of certain kinds that one likes, or from which one benefits, ahead of the interests of oppressed peoples or those who face institutional and systemic racism or misogyny in one form or another.  In the latter case, obdurateness, one is simply willfully oblivious to the obvious because it either suits his interests or because he is emotionally wed to a worldview that is simply confounded by empirical reality and logic that he is otherwise mentally capable of comprehending.  That is the kind of person who believes neither he nor his political or social clan is not guilty of racism or misogyny, but who, by virtue of his intelligence and available information, ought to know better. 
Now, the fact is that I do not subscribe to the notion that there really is such a thing as race, as such, given the traditional meaning of the word.  Race is a bogus concept from a biological perspective. There is much less genetic variation among the so-called major racial groups than there is among individuals within each group and the human species as a whole. Race is essentially an anachronistic way of classifying people, and more often than not, for those in power to subjugate or discriminate against others. It is essentially a social-cultural construct, a lexical formulation, and not a biological one. The word “race” was initially used to describe speakers of a common language and to denote national affiliations; indeed, Winston Churchill used it this way often in his writings and speeches in the first half of the 20th century, for example, when he described the English or German races. In the 17th century, more people started to use the term race to describe phenotypical traits, and in due course, it was believed there was a genetic-biological basis for classifying people. But in this vein, and particularly as colonialism took root from the 17th century on, followed by imperialism, race, which is to say, people different from ourselves in some way, be it color or tribe or size or shape, also became means of classifying those for whom there was disdain or fear, or thought to be inferior, and often enough, as a justification for subjugation and expropriation. These are the historical and contemporary realities that have driven entire populations into slavery or worse, genocide, justified on the basis of race, or that in modernity have engendered various systems of discrimination and oppression, not always overtly, and often subtly, such as we see today in police behavior, suspicion when using public accommodations, or in the process of procuring employment or housing, just to name some obvious ones. 
Misogyny is even more ancient than racism. It has probably caused more sustained pain, misery, and premature mortality to our fellow human beings than any other social phenomenon in humankind, including war and other catastrophes. It consists of many different elements and in varying degrees, some overt, others subtle, and perpetrators and victims alike are not always aware of it. Victims can even be unwittingly complicit in its application. Its main features are societies that are patriarchal or androcentric, which encompasses nearly all societies throughout recorded history; those societies or institutions that by law or custom practice exclusion, discrimination, hostility, and male privilege; practices or tolerance of violence against women, including belittling and emotionally damaging them; female infanticide; and the practice of sexual objectification, treating them as objects of pleasure or utility with little or no regard for their essential humanity.  Misogyny is often codified in law; sanctioned or justified in philosophy, theology, or political theory; and of particular importance both historically and culturally, it is often sanctioned and even required by sacred religious texts, including all three of the Abrahamic religions and the major Asian religions.
Like many racists, Trump might well think that he isn’t one, although I am not so sure, though he says he isn’t,  and he’s the first to parade his black friends or point out the lone black person or Mexican at his rallies in a sea of white faces and red hats; but the evidence is simply overwhelming from his statements about Mexicans and “the blacks,” among others, and with his practices in his businesses and his racial dog whistles to arouse fear and enliven the many white supremacists that support him–––and by as much as anything, by the things that he won’t say. I doubt very seriously that Trump has much of a “theory” of race or of women, as such. He is not a cerebral man, to state the obvious. It is fairly clear, though, that he and his father practiced discrimination with their housing developments and that from various statements that he’s made over the years that he views African Americans as his inferiors. It is certainly the case that he views women, even those who he’s related to, as mere objects for his pleasure and his use, often as items for display. And there are reasons to believe that he has been physically violent with at least one woman, his first wife (who accused him of rape and beating her), and we have good reason to believe that he is guilty of serial sexual assaults based on multiple, credible accusations.
Trumpism, I maintain, is a form of fascism.  I have written at length elsewhere in this publication and in others about this, and will not dwell upon it now. One element is important to mention, though, and that is the identification of the leader himself with the state, which is to say, the interests and persona of the state and the leader are inextricably intertwined, such that the leader becomes the state, his statements become the truth, he is the ultimate standard of reference for what is apodictic and real, and he embodies the law, and is therefore incapable of breaking it (his lawyers and retainers are making this very point already!), and his interests are intrinsic to the interests of the state and vice a versa. This relationship to the state is one of several essential common denominators of all fascist regimes. And by all the available empirical evidence, it is what Trump himself believes and what his core constituency believes. It is not populism, as some liberal or more sensible conservative wags have supposed. Indeed, it is anything but, for populism is by definition inherently democratic.  Trump uses popular appeal, to be sure, but that is different than being democratic, for it is but a means to authority. But Trumpism is also primarily about white men and their grievances, recognizing their perceived sense of loss, and capitalizing on their belief in their inherent superiority and securing their rights of suzerainty over others–––regaining their lost, and their due positions of privilege, both at home and in the world at large.  Race is a fundamental aspect of Trumpism, which is to say, it exploits the systemic racism that exists in an uncomfortably large part of the nation, at least a third of it, and in its institutional body politic, and it has utilized a ready-made vector for it in the Republican Party, the erstwhile party of Lincoln, and in one of the greatest historical ironies, a party that was essentially taken over by Southern Democrats–––Dixiecrats–––gradually and steadily after the 1964/65 Civil and Voting Rights Acts, or as I have argued elsewhere, a continuation of the Civil War by political rather than military means.
I hasten to add, racism and misogyny are not problems only among followers of Trump and Republicans. Liberals have their own problems. The important distinction is this: liberals, for the most part, both know this and desire to work towards eliminating them through both policy and practice. Imperfectly, of course, but with steady progress over time. Liberals are also far more aware, generally, of white privilege, what it entails, and how it informs our behaviors, even with the best of intentions. It takes reminding, but, by-and-large, liberals are much more self-aware. And when there is a problem with persons in power or structurally in our institutions, liberals are much less apt to defend or obfuscate it, and more likely to intervene and correct it. This has not been the case, with few exceptions, among Republicans, and not at all in Trumpdom. Of course, one thing of critical importance for liberals to understand, professing or prescribing, even supporting legislation, making financial contributions, or giving supportive speeches, are not sufficient measures of whether or not one is a racist or a sexist, as we have observed in several recent cases with prominent people. It is what we do or do not do that matters, the way we act towards others, our conduct. Not mere words–––but our deeds are what count. 
I want to make it very clear: to support Trump is to be both a racist and a misogynist. There can be no ambiguity or shillyshallying about this. This is an unpleasant truth for liberals and Trumpers alike, but one with which we must come to terms. Liberals see Trumpers as potential converts and don’t want to alienate them. But that’s a pipe dream. Meantime, there’s useful work to be done. Our constant reminder might cause some Trumpers to engage in analysis that is constructive over time, maybe even redemptive. But it is more likely that with our immediate efforts we can invigorate people of good will to ensure the defeat of Trumpism in elective office, and to protect our various institutions and those who have been harmed by it, as well as making more secure the rights of posterity.
In conclusion, to suggest, as many do, “Oh, I only support his policies, not his manners or what he says about blacks and women,” is a facile and convenient delusion. If you know or you ought to know Trump is a racist and a misogynist, then if you continue to support his having power over one of the three branches of government, one which gives him the power to use his racist and misogynistic predilections in practice and to implant them in policy, then you are by logical extension complicit in the same, and that, whether by indifference or by intention makes you a racist and a misogynist.  To illustrate by a reductio ad absurdum argument, imagine suggesting: “Well, I really don’t support Hitler’s policies towards the Jews, but I will support the Führer for his good policies on building the Autobahn and in making Germany great again after the debacle of the last war and our ensuing privations.”  To suggest you like Trump’s tax policies and his tariffs, so you’ll support him despite his obvious racism and misogyny is no different, logically, than it would have been in the early 1930s to support Hitler because you like a few of his policies, too.  Yes, it is a matter of severity, of weight and moment, of tradeoffs in policies–––not that Trump is Hitler, either–––but racism and misogyny are serious issues, issues that outweigh nearly all other policy issues other than existential ones such as survival itself, and it seems implausible that anyone with half a brain could or would think the nearly unhinged Trump is the key to the safety of the species or the nation.  To embrace Trump in power at all is emblematic of intention or indifference about racism and misogyny, and both amount to the same result. So, I don’t buy the excuses of many, such as Governor Romney, who is running for Senate in Utah, and who denounces Trump’s style but still embraces his policies. I’m sorry: you cannot separate out his racism and his treatment of women from the rest to suit yourself.  I, for one, am done with all of their excuses.  It is simply incontrovertibly true that, if you support Trump, a clear-cut racist and misogynist, that you also effectively support both racism and misogyny, and you are therefore a racist and misogynist. Most Trump supporters would deny they are either of these things, but not because they are not, but because in many circles it is deemed socially unacceptable. But the fact is, they are, wittingly or unwittingly, and that is a distinction without a difference, and it’s time to call them out for it.  It is also time for liberals to stop giving others a pass and rationalizing their deplorable behavior. Trumpism is racist and misogynistic.

Michael E. Berumen is a retired CEO and a writer and lecturer on various topics living with his wife, Carol, outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. Berumen has given expert testimony to the U.S. Congress and other legislative and regulatory bodies on health insurance and health reform; appeared on television news broadcasts and been interviewed by many major press outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times; and he has served as a director on for-profit and non-profit boards. He has addressed many academic, business, and community audiences, internationally, and on a variety of topics, including philosophy, ethics, political theory, economics, mathematics, and science. He is the former editor of a scholarly journal published by the Bertrand Russell Society, the Bulletin. Among other things, in addition to many articles, he is the author of Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business (2003).

Abolish the Anachronistic Second Amendment!

For some years now, after one horrific mass-shooting and another, many liberals begin their lamentations and calls for more reasonable gun control with a de rigueur  introductory qualification, “I support the Second Amendment, but…” or “I support the right to bear arms and I own weapons myself, but…”  Here are my own bona fides: I grew up around guns and hunted as a youth with my father; I am an expert shot with an M-16 select-fire rifle as deemed by the U.S. Army, and I have the medal to prove it, and I own a rifle and have it on display (empty of ammo) in my house.  I also believe the Second Amendment is an anachronism and ought to be abolished.  The prescribed “right” to bear arms is by man’s law, not by any natural law, not intuitively derived, and not mandated ex cathedra by any Abrahamic tradition’s sacred text.  And prescribed rights can be un-prescribed.

The amendment was part of the Bill of Rights, the original ten amendments to the United States Constitution, with wording virtually lifted from original state constitutions written before the Constitution (ratified in 1788). During the Revolutionary War era, “militia” referred to groups of men who banded together to protect their communities, towns, colonies and, once the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, individual states. The Second Amendment is concisely stated:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

During the Colonial era, a militia was a group of citizens who were not professional soldiers or part of a standing army, and who gathered together as necessary to defend the community against untoward, outside forces, and, more specifically, in the Revolutionary era, against the British.  It was a common perception among colonists before the Revolution that British soldiers of the regular army oppressed the citizenry, and there was also a general suspicion and loathing of standing armies and centralized power.  After the Revolution, many in the country believed that a regular Army should be raised by the federal government only when necessitated to defend against foreign adversaries, and otherwise, that citizen soldiers armed with their own weapons (slow-loading muskets were used at the time and well into the 1840s) would be called when necessary to defend the local community. But it became apparent that loosely-organized citizen soldiers were not up to the task against the formidable British and its highly-trained professional troops, so the framers gave the new federal government the power to establish a standing army in peacetime.  So-called Anti-Federalists were suspicious of such power, however, and argued that such a standing army would encroach upon a state’s right to defend itself against tyranny. As a consequence, after the Constitution was ratified in 1788, its principal author, James Madison, soon proposed the Second Amendment as one part of a Bill of Rights (1791) in order to empower militias and to prevent the federal government from disarming them by ensuring that individuals, citizen soldiers, would be able to keep their arms.

It is convenient for supporters of the Second Amendment to overlook the word “regulated” in the key phrase, “A well-regulated militia”–––much as it is for detractors to ignore the clause stating the purpose of a militia, namely, its “being necessary to the security of a free State”–––which as anyone knows who studied the period does not mean the freedom of the United States, but of the individual states within it.  Now, clearly, the right for an individual to bear arms is undeniable by any literal or historical interpretation of the amendment. The reason for arming the individual is so the local community––a state––can defend itself against tyranny. No serious reading of the history of the period could cause one to conclude otherwise.  With that said, the amendment, though pithy, is slapdash and ambiguous, and was drawn without full consideration of its ramifications, and, in particular, the changes in technology and the meaning of “Arms.”  It seems likely that Madison intended the individual states to provide the regulations for the “well-regulated” militias, and that surely would impact how individuals possess and use weapons (as even Justice Scalia implied in Heller v. DC), but unlikely that he could have predicted the types of weapons that became available over the next two hundred years, including rifles, semi-automatic and automatic weapons, portable missile launchers–––let alone smaller nuclear devices or biological weapons. It seems unlikely that he would have wanted just any citizen to own such devices, and yet, all fall under the definition of “arms”–––and the word is not qualified or narrowed in any way in the sentence.

The fact is that a state militia of citizen soldiers, as conceived at the time of the Revolutionary War and the ensuing Constitutional Convention, is an unlikely opponent against the full might of the combined forces and armaments of the United States, today.  And the picture of the lone individual NRA enthusiast emerging from his survivalist ranch with his AR-15 to defend himself against a stealth helicopter manned by jackbooted soldiers sent by the IRS or US Forest Service with missiles and 50-caliber machine guns seems far-fetched and even comically ludicrous. 

The amendment is poorly worded.  It does not account for modernity. So-called states’ rights were of course of particular importance to many of the men of the Convention, and especially those who wanted to protect slavery and the privileges it provided, which is to say, the men of the South. These motives were gussied-up with talk of the dangers of centralized powers and local democracy, but democracy could hardly be said to have been a paramount concern other than in a very limited, privileged sense, namely, that white men who had property should have a vote, which is to say, men like themselves.   The American Civil War and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, and several court cases and legislation of the 1950s and 1960s, settled much of what these men sought to protect and to justify by “states’ rights.”  And while I do not discount the utility of local control and the advantages of plurality, some things ought not to be negotiable at a state or local level, which is why we have a Constitution in the first place, for some laws ought to apply everywhere and ought to be very difficult to change, not only to protect the majority of citizens, but also to protect minorities against majorities. This brings me to my last points.

The Second Amendment has seen its day.  State militias are anachronistic.  Individuals do not need assault weapons or nuclear weapons, or, in my view, any weapon other than those used for hunting or self-defense, and then, with very strict limitations. There is a reason we have more accidental shootings, suicides, and murders than any other advanced society in the world … both per capita and in absolute terms, and it is not because we are especially crazy or less homogenous or more naturally violent or for other concocted reasons: it is because we have millions of more guns, and compared to virtually anywhere else, we have unfettered access to them. The evidence is irrefutable. All human beings are to one degree or another naturally disposed to violence, something we aim to quell and inhibit with civilization, laws, upbringing, and conscience. Americans are not uniquely disposed to violence.  I hope that in time weapons will be abolished altogether, as hunting becomes a vestigial barbarism consigned to history, and self-defense is conducted by other means, perhaps even becoming unnecessary.  Gun ownership, itself, not simply militias, ought to be strictly regulated, and it ought to be regulated at a federal level at a minimum, and states can be more but not certainly less restrictive.   It is too complex an issue to boil down to a sentence or two or three, and because things change in technology and society, it is best handled by statute, and not addressed in the Constitution. Better simply to eliminate the Amendment in its entirety in my view. 

Now, I by no means believe that any of this is likely in the near term; the firearms industry’s lobby is too powerful, and the notion of it being an important “right” is too ingrained in the minds of many Americans, including many of our ciphering politicians.  But most of these same Americans are older, and mortality being what it is, they will be gone soon enough. Meantime, our youth are proving more sensible, not nearly as oriented to hunting or the firing range, and they do not adhere to the faux macho and overwrought notion that they need to possess a weapon to defend themselves. So, I think it is something we liberals need to start being more forthright about, a more vocal influence on youth who yet might live to rid society of this specious and unnecessary amendment, and that we need to stop the needless and often insincere qualification, “I support the “right” to bear arms,” nonsense.  Do we really?   I, for one, do not.

Reprinted from Liberal Resistance

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. A longtime Californian, he and his wife have live happily in retirement in Colorado

On Fascism

The appellation fascist or fascism has been applied to many people and movements over the years, and more often than not, it has been used incorrectly etymologically, that is, in terms of its historical and philosophical origins. Most often it has been used by the left to describe people or movements on the right. To be sure, from time to time one hears people on the right using it against the left, too, and particularly in recent years.  In essence, it has become a convenient pejorative that has a certain desired impact, namely, it offends, for it is hard to imagine a political outlook that could be much worse, even though I suspect most who use it (or deride its use, for that matter) are unfamiliar with its historical meaning, that is, other than in the most superficial sense that it applied to certain European dictators and regimes in the 20th century. A facile use of the designation has had the unfortunate effect of causing many otherwise sober-minded people to overlook its proper use, and, what I view as particularly dangerous, there has been a failure to recognize when it is the appropriate label.  By any other name, and whether people want to acknowledge it or not, and that includes some soothsayers and deniers in academia and among the chattering and pundit classes, fascism is definitely on the rise. 

I have studied fascism and fascistic movements for much of my life. I have read its major philosophical progenitors, mostly French, Italian, and German thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and I have studied its development and practice in several localities with some notable differences, but also with some common themes. And based on this research,  I believe there are very definite worrisome fascistic trends that obtain today in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and in the United States, trends spearheaded by leaders who evince both fascistic doctrines and styles of leadership, whether or not they are themselves fully aware of it from an intellectual standpoint. Comparisons to Hitler or Mussolini are often overused and usually inaccurate in terms of some of the unique personal capacities and traits of these men versus some today who are operating on the public stage. Both men were creatures of their times and influenced by particular upbringings and experiences. They also were quite different from one another intellectually and temperamentally. With that said, the writings and practices of both are useful as propaedeutics in understanding the essential characteristics of fascism, both as seen by its principal actors, historically, and to help us understand how it might be manifested today.

Let me begin by stating unequivocally, Fascism does not fit in the traditional ideological categories of right and left, which is not the way pundits representing either ideological extreme would like to have it, namely, by suggesting that fascism represents the ideology of the other side. The fact that this is even possible by both sides partly explains why fascism can appeal to many people even of disparate orientations, for it incorporates principles from both the right and the left. Fascism is nearly always presented by academics as a species of far right-wing politics, but that is both inaccurate and overly simplistic. 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 ideologies on the left and right, borrowed from both, and was what he called “syncretic.”

Fascism is also sometimes characterized as or mistaken for a species of populism, and while it certainly has populist overtones, it is also quite different from it, indeed, in its fully-realized form, it is the exact opposite of populism, insofar as it is the leader who becomes the embodiment of the state and its peoples. To be sure, populist political techniques can and certainly will be used to attain power, but the goal of fascism is not in any way, shape, or form democratic, indeed, it is anti-democratic.  Many on the left have viewed some recent movements as populist, when, in fact, they are far more fascistic in nature. They are guilty of mistaking popular appeal with populism, which at its root is a democratic movement in support of the rights and power of ordinary people. Fascism is about the power of the state and its leader, which subsumes the interests of the people.

The remarkable thing about fascism is its relative incoherency as a doctrine, as it does not offer a systematic view of the world as with a typical ideology or political philosophy.  As much as anything, fascism is about the behavior of its leader, his style, and it is highly transactional in the sense that whatever facilitates the attainment of its goal, which ultimately is the power and the identity of the leader with the state, a leader who is seen as the solution to all problems and who becomes the embodiment and incarnation of vox populi, is what it will adopt as its method or praxis. And whatever stands in the way of this goal simply will be rejected.  Here is the key to understanding fascism: it is about power. It is at once transactional and utilitarian. Part of the problem and reason that many have failed to recognize fascism when they see it is that they are looking for its leaders to delineate a systematic and coherent doctrine when they should be looking instead for personal behaviors and some general characteristics.

I have written elsewhere at some length and in several articles why I believe Trumpism is a manifestation of fascist tendencies in the United States, and why I believe that Trump is himself a fascist, even without his knowing that he is, as he is an utterly and unreservedly unlettered man, someone who is an entirely instinctual vessel of fascism. But my purpose, here, is not to deconstruct Trumpism or provide examples of his fascistic ways and beliefs. Rather, it is to provide a general précis on some of the principal attributes of fascism insofar as it can be codified in order to provide a guide that might prove useful in examining recent and future events in the United States and in other countries. Here are ten characteristics that were present in the major fascistic movements of the last century and are reappearing today.

  1.      Fascism is a form of hyper-nationalism that capitalizes (note, that is as much a method as a goal) on two principal outlooks, namely, strong patriotic feelings, often founded on a mythical past that never occurred or that is highly distorted, and accompanied by the vilification of groups seen detrimental to both the nation’s purity and the national interest–––groups most often represented by an ethnic, racial, or religious affiliation, cosmopolitan elites, and outsiders more generally. Both jingoism and revanchist claims are both common aspects of fascism.
  2.      While there certainly are elements of anti-elitist populism, power to the masses is not the goal, indeed, far from it. The people are but a means to an end, and the irony is that ordinary people are willing participants, for, truth be known, democracy is not their goal, they approve of their authoritarian leader(s). Fascism seeks to co-opt those presently 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, and it will take full advantage of existing institutions and laws to accomplish its ends.
  3.      Related to the last point, fascism freely borrows from both socialist and capitalist doctrines, in that obtaining and maintaining power is its goal, and despite railing against economic elites when it suits its purpose, fascism  itself does not entail a systematic economic doctrine other than that which is seen as necessary to attain its ends and to benefit the state, which includes subsuming whatever economic power or centers of influence might be necessary to attain those ends, whether through markets, corporate interests, or popular measures with the masses. 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 (during 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, and in the case of both Italy and Germany, laden with considerable kleptocracy activity among some of its leaders.
  4.      Conspiratorial and exclusionary thinking about groups and forces aligned against the movement is part and parcel to all fascistic movements, and they play central roles in the rallying cries of its leaders, whether the bogeyman is international Jewry, Muslims, a particular ethnic group, the bourgeoisie, large corporate interests, liberal elites, communists, or the media. These groups are always conspiring against the legitimate powers and are usually blameworthy for problems past and present. Victimhood is a common feature, as problems or deficiencies must be attributed to others.
  5.      When out of power, fascistic movements always declaim against the legitimacy of those in power as usurpers and criminals who, through their machinations, rig outcomes and are not the true representatives of the people or the nation.
  6.      Every successful fascistic movement has been led by a charismatic and often bombastic demagogue who claims to be the embodiment of the nation, the vessel of the national will, and as the exceptional person without whom the nation is unable to prosper or survive. The state and its leader effectively becomes one, and unlike some other forms of totalitarianism or authoritarianism, the interests of the state are inextricably tied to the leader who, for all practical purposes, is seen as the state made flesh.
  7.      A fascistic movement will often view violence as a just means of achieving its ends, whether outside of or through the state, and ironically, law and order are common code words used to justify it. Calls for violence or hints of violent recourse against opponents are common. There is often an exaggerated, hyper-masculinity on parade, with the glorification of toughness and strength and power. There is a display of an authoritarian bearing, and the leader’s followers are unabashed admirers of it. In the modern era, violence may be more symbolic through posturing and threats than real, but hints of it through synecdoche and metonyms are often used to great effect in speeches and at rallies.
  8.      Despite the popular appeals to “law and order,” a trope and signal calling card 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 constitutional authority. Often the law is construed as that which is willed by the individual or individuals in power. In other words, the liberal democratic principle of rule of law is essentially discarded.
  9.      An attribute of all 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 its partisans or when said evidence conflicts with doctrine or the interests of the leadership.
  10.      Symbolism is often an important aspect of fascism, especially patriotic symbols that evoke feelings of group identity and shared destiny. The Nazis, in particular, made effective use of this. Stagecraft is of particular importance, including patriotic regalia, lighting, and music. The use of memes and symbols to vilify opponents is ever present in fascistic movements–––against those who would jeopardize the national interest from within or from without–––or they are used to encapsulate the magnificence of the world envisioned versus the depravity or inferiority of the alternative are prominent in fascistic movements. Making the nation great as opposed to what internal or external malefactors have done or would do. 

My list is not exhaustive, by any means, and there are variations on these themes and on the importance that each plays in a particular strain of fascism. But I think that both in terms of its underlying philosophy and where it has been put into practice, these ten characteristics encapsulate the major features of a fascistic regime, which, to no small degree, is a is inseparable from the style and persona of its leadership, for fascism is not simply a matter of ideology, but one of personality. There are several very disturbing aspects of fascistic outlook, to be sure–––both in terms of its aspirations as well as its underlying motivations and what actuates it as a movement. Of particular concern, however, is the fact that it is quite dismissive of the rule of law and it is not rooted in any overarching conception of justice.  In fact, with fascism, the benefit of the governed is ultimately seen as whatever benefits the ruler, and the ruler is in effect the embodiment, indeed, the raison d'être for the state. It is a critical error to look for a highly-systematic doctrine or an overarching weltanschauung.  Fascism is at bottom very transactional and utilitarian in the sense that the power of the leader and his identity with the national interest are paramount. There are some typical tools that I’ve enumerated, but these do not in and of themselves describe the endgame, and it is easy to confuse means with ends when analyzing the fascistic state and those who would lead it. Not so long ago that kind of regime resulted in the deaths and suffering of millions, and many millions more would sacrifice their lives to eradicate it from the world.  What will be said of our time and of our generation if all that loss proves to have been in vain?

Reprinted from Liberal Resistance

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the U.S. Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. A longtime Californian, he and his wife now live happily in retirement in Colorado.

The American Civil War: Why it Continues and How Finally to End It

Reprinted from Liberal Resistance 4-1-18

The traitor Robert E. Lee, head of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, may have surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Wilmer McLean’s house at Appomattox in 1865, but that did not really end the American Civil War. It only ended (other than some isolated skirmishes in the months that followed) the military conflict between the United States and the disloyal secessionists. Major segments of the latter were never reconciled to defeat, did not accept many of the principles and the cultural ethos that impelled the victorious Union, and would live to fight another day by other means. Indeed, that battle by “other means”––––political means–––continues to this day, albeit, the parties are no longer easily defined by geography. While it is true that the locus of the ideological heirs of the Confederacy continues to be predominately among whites in southern states, the outlook that defines it has also infiltrated other states.  For lack of more descriptive appellations, I characterize this particular idea of “politics as war by other means” (inverting von Clausewitz’s aphorism) as a struggle between what I call liberal cosmopolitanism and the neo-Confederacy.

It is not my purpose, here, to provide a scholarly disquisition on the Confederate outlook of the 1860s and how it is manifested today in more modern terms in what I call the neo-Confederacy. At the risk of oversimplification, therefore, allow me to summarize its major attributes, which I believe consist of five major elements, and in no particular order of importance, recognizing that there are variations on the theme of each with weightings that differ among individuals and sub-groups. 

First, the neo-Confederate ethos entails a sense of religious superiority, which is to say, a belief theirs is at once a greater and more appropriate kind of religiosity versus the more secularized society or religions one finds among the economic and cultural elites, usually the more educated in more liberal urban centers of the nation.  These are typically Protestant religions, and especially among the more Evangelical and Pentecostal varieties, though it must be noted, almost exclusively among peoples of European origin. 

Second, there is a belief that liberal cosmopolitans have strayed from the kind of country the neo-Confederates imagine the Founders and Framers intended, one harkening back to a kind of Rockwellian depiction of the halcyon days of a mythological white America.  The hagiography surrounding major figures of the rebellious states during the Civil War, especially military figures, and plenty of iconography and symbolism in admiration of the Confederacy, are all emblematic of this mythmaking. 

Third, there is a shared antipathy for what is seen as an economic hegemony by unscrupulous, elite money powers with global interests, interests often typified by Wall Street moneymen, and additionally, today, Silicon Valley techno-barons. In some quarters there are disturbing, exaggerated, and not-so-subtle reminders that some of these moneyed interests, as well as major media outlets, are led by Jews. Then, of course, there are the liberal denizens of academia who are intent on corrupting the young with anti-American and anti-religious ideas, and notions of equality among the races and sexes, even acceptance of sexual deviancy from the supposed norm. The focus of many of these elites is on investing capital, science, and technology, as opposed to more worthy forms of labor–––and it is at the expense of the “little man”––––a perpetual victim of dark forces. Victimhood by the impingement of outsiders is a particularly important trait shared by both the old and the neo-Confederacy.  

These elites denigrate the neo-Confederates prized values of masculinity, womanhood, hearth, and godliness, bringing us to the fourth attribute, namely, eschewing the multi-culturalism and globalism, in other words: cosmopolitanism–––an outlook that often attends financial power, affluence, and education. Cosmopolitanism is closely aligned with liberalism ... openness, freedom, individual rights, tolerance, and free expression. 

And fifth, and not least of all, there’s the matter of race (a rather bogus concept, biologically, I hasten to add, and largely a social construct, but one that communicates for our limited purpose)–––and an imagined loss of prestige and power in relation to those who are seen as inferior or as outsiders, resentments reinforced by an underlying and nearly visceral tribal contempt for “the other.”

By way of excursus, I should point out that people in the neo-Confederacy do not suggest a return to slavery, as such, or even a major rollback of key civil rights laws. Most even deny that they have racist or ethnocentric outlooks, though their language and behaviors quickly belie these protestations. What they really want when one adds it all up is to ensure that those of European heritage maintain suzerainty and privilege over persons of non-European origin, and especially those who are seen as inferior, threatening, or both, or, at the very least, that they not lose the rightful power and prestige they (usually imagined, since the working classes seldom had either) believe has been taken away from them. That African Americans, for example, hold prestigious positions in entertainment or sports, and that they are entitled to enjoy facilities with equal public accommodation, are not of special untoward consequence to most neo-Confederates; however, that African Americans might hold key public offices, and especially the presidency, or that they seek to change white privilege in other cultural or economic arenas that are not viewed as being tantamount to minstrel work, are in combination seen as a bridge too far.

After the “surrender” at Appomattox, there was ample reason to be hopeful about the prospects of recasting the South and going about it in a way that was conducive to reconciliation. The latter objective was clearly stated in Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, where he said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves…” Lincoln’s assassination and the disastrous tenure of his successor, Andrew Johnson, set all of that behind, though the key 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments abolishing slavery, bestowing citizenship, and ensuring voting rights had been put into motion and were all ratified by the states by early 1870 with considerable pressure from Radical Republicans in Congress and the executive branch. Notwithstanding these amendments, white southerners wasted no time after the war in establishing the so-called Black Codes, which, among other things, restricted black people's right to own property, conduct commerce, lease land, or move freely through public spaces.  After Johnson left office, President Grant attempted to adopt what he believed more closely comported with Lincoln’s vision and to enforce that in the erstwhile rebellious states. Grant spent a great deal of his time eradicating the Ku Klux Klan, squashing various disaffected militia groups, and enforcing suffrage and representation. However, by his second term, the Radical Republicans in Congress had lost much of their power; the abolitionist wind that had hitherto bellowed Republican sails had died down, and the appetite for funding Grant’s reconstruction and regulatory efforts had seriously waned.

After Grant, the Republican Party became increasingly aligned with commercial and more parochial Northern interests, thereby enabling southern whites and northern interlopers willing to exploit the situation to roll back much of the progress that had been made. Soon, under Hayes and successor Republican and Democratic presidents, powerful whites were able to shut out blacks from the state legislatures in the South, and they instituted apartheid-type laws, widely known as Jim Crow laws–––laws that mandated segregation in nearly all aspects of life. These would last well into the second half of the next century, indeed, in this writer’s lifetime. They implemented various impediments to any hope of political representation or financial prosperity and enforced what amounted to indentured servitude, effectively removing all economic and political power from African Americans. Many local militias, including a burgeoning Klan and like organizations, terrorized African Americans to keep them in line. Many blacks fled to northern urban areas and to the West Coast to escape these privations. There they would encounter problems, too, for racial animosity was not confined to the South, but not to the same degree, and they were not as bereft of political, commercial, and organized labor allies in positions of power. Moreover, there were opportunities to establish major enclaves that created both economic and cultural advantages in urban areas without many of the kinds of impediments found in the South.

Fast forward to the 20th Century–––the South remained essentially the same until the mid-1960s, a virtual apartheid nation within a nation, and from the perspective of an African American, a totalitarian dictatorship. In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to cobble together strange bedfellows of Southern Democrats, northern labor interests, academic and intellectual classes, and many African Americans–––a great many of whom had been Republicans prior to the 1930s–––a coalition of unlikely partners formed out of shared economic interests that resulted from the Great Depression and hardships that affected everyone. These were not natural alliances, and least of all, with the racist, agrarian, non-union, insular, and relatively poor whites in the South, which would nevertheless remain Democratic until the 1960s and 1970s. Fissures in FDR’s coalition began to show in the early 1950s with Brown v. the Board of Education and the ensuing forced integration of public schools, and these breaks were furthered by the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and capped by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, arguably the three most important pieces of domestic legislation since the 1860s.  President Lyndon Johnson lamented to his aide Bill Moyers that his strong-arming civil rights legislation through Congress would be the end of the Democratic Party in the South, but he knew history was on his side.

Johnson’s prediction would come true in relatively short order, as cynical Republicans used states’ rights (often code for anti-civil rights legislation) and other effective memes to foment dissension and attract disaffected Southern Democrats. Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” and “law-and-order” planks, not-so-subtle code for preserving white power and culture, drove the penultimate nail in the coffin in terms of Democratic hegemony in the South.  And Ronald Reagan drove in the final one with his rhetorical flourishes of robust patriotism and military prowess, always a selling point among many working and middle-class Southerners, and in particular–––and somewhat ironically, by this twice-married, Hollywood man–––by effectively co-opting the Evangelicals from the Democrats with the help of the likes of Jerry Falwell of the misnamed Moral Majority. In a matter of two decades, the South became a bastion of Republicanism. All this was shored up by state party operatives who ensured that gerrymandered districts and voting restrictions of various kinds would establish and preserve disproportionate power to their national numbers in congressional elections. Meantime, these new culturally-driven, revanchist Republicans drove away many of the cloth coat, country-club Republicans of the business class, and more liberal and moderate or libertarian Republicans of the northern and western states, if not to the Democrats (which was simultaneously losing more moderate and conservative-minded members), then to unaligned, independent and non-partisan status, where they would pick and choose based on candidates rather than based on party affiliation. Thereby, of all things, the Republican Party, the erstwhile Party of Lincoln, became a party that represented many of the values of its once mortal enemy, the old Confederacy cast anew. It cynically sought to capitalize on cultural grievances and on racial (now expanded beyond African Americans) antagonisms while, at the same time, maintaining its standing with commercial interests with the idea that self-interested financial motives of a more cosmopolitan and socially liberal commercial class would enable it to overlook the racism, religiosity, and the vulgarianism of the neo-Confederacy.

It is worth noting, here, that according to a recent Pew study, 39% of the electorate identify as independents, 32% as Democrats, and 23% as Republicans. Thus, a plurality of voters is now unaligned, while the two parties have become increasingly polarized without identifiable moderates in either party or liberals among Republicans or conservatives among Democrats. This is very different than fifty years ago when both parties had conservatives, moderates, and liberals. The difference-making target for both parties, nowadays, is to win based on turnout and attracting a sufficient number of independent voters on the margins.

While the southern states remain the stronghold of the neo-Confederacy, it has certainly established footholds in other parts of the nation sharing some of the grievances and resentments previously adduced. So-called “hard hat Democrats” of the Nixon era were the progenitors of a movement of many disaffected, white working people in urban and suburban areas that came over to the Republican Party, which not many years before had been seen as a party of the commercial merchant and big-business classes, and one antithetical to the interests of blue collar workers.  Increasingly, the Republican Party allied itself with several of the neo-Confederates’ cultural shibboleths and totems, such as religion, anti-abortion, anti-equal rights for women (e.g., the failed Equal Rights Amendment), anti-gay rights, and, of course, the firearms lobby embodied by the NRA–––and, somewhat ironically, despite its long track record of isolationism and pacifism prior to World War II, it re-branded itself as the party of robust defense and patriotism, especially under Richard Nixon and beyond. Along comes Donald Trump, a flamboyant and unlettered conman, a feckless draft-dodger and gauche playboy, but who, with a kind of intuitive marketing savvy into people’s darker natures, was able to exploit all of the grievances and resentments characterizing the neo-Confederacy by selling his distinctly American brand of fascism. Trump’s bombastic rhetoric and faux hyper-masculinity appealed to many working-class whites, and his racist overtones attracted all manner of kooks from out of the political recesses into the limelight. Whilst cosmopolitans were appalled at his vulgar taste and habits, his supporters reveled in it, for they represented what they would choose to be like had they the money and power. With more than a little help from Russia, James Comey, and Facebook, he secured an Electoral College victory with only 77,000 votes more than his opponent in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

So, here we are today, a nation nearly as polarized as we were in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War, proper–––and, perhaps, with just about the same proportions in terms of the bifurcation of sentiments as measured by population–––then roughly 70% in free states, 30% in slaveholding states (the latter consisting of the Confederate and so-called Border States).  The Republican Party, notwithstanding some of its establishment types who adhere to a more conventional brand of fiscal conservatism, is solidly in the hands of the neo-Confederates. Some of the commercial interests (e.g., the Koch brothers, among others) and those establishment types clinging tenuously (and cravenly) to power (such as Paul Ryan), and some voters among the more educated business class, are cynically willing to overlook the semi-literates of the unwashed Republican constituency that reliably comes out to vote the party line,  all in order to protect their sinecures and fulfill their more parochial economic interests (such as lower taxes), and strangely enough, promote interests that are more often than not diametrically opposed to many of those among the less affluent who vote the party line. But Trumpism is beginning to force a change, and now even establishment politicians are taking stances in economic policy and foreign affairs that would have Republicans like Ronald Reagan, among others, rolling in his grave. The winking and nodding of the Romney types at the underclasses while going about feathering their nests will no longer cut it. White trash is now in charge of Congress and the Presidency. Only the unwieldy, large bureaucracies and the courts hold out, but for how long is anyone’s guess before irreversible damage is done.

With all of this said, in the final analysis, we must acknowledge that we are divided along tribal lines, by this I mean the liberal cosmopolitans and neo-Confederates, and this is despite the patina of logical analysis and our self-serving sense of being right on both logic and facts.  The great Scottish philosopher David Hume was correct when he said nowhere in nature will one find a moral fact, but only facts (empirically verifiable matters or tautologies) and values (our preferences and passions), and that moral judgments are judgments of value and not matters of fact. And political ends are essentially moral judgments writ large, to borrow from Plato’s Republic. In other words, our political ends, the kind of world in which we want to live, are but our preferences, passions, emotions, desires–––our values.  And as Hume said, we cannot show that a value is something we ought to desire without conjuring other values, and these can never be justified through ratiocination, that is, through reason alone, and our suggestions to the contrary always rely on a kind of circular reasoning or they are ex cathedra, based on some authority (e.g., faith in Scripture) rather than founded in logic or empirical findings. Thus, reason can help us achieve our ends, but our ends, in the final analysis, represent our desires quite apart from anything mandated by reason. What this means is that politics is at its roots essentially an emotional business insofar as political ideals go (e.g., liberty, equality, caring for the weak, peace, even survival of the species). It is about the kind of world we desire, not something commanded by reason. It is impossible to argue for these ends with logic and facts, and that is because the reality is logic and facts have little to do with them or with reason. That Humean outlook is unsettling to many, though I find no reason to think he was wrong, and philosophers struggle today to find a way around it, but as far as I have observed, without any success.  

Then there is the matter of the group to which we belong, that is, the clan or tribe that shares our worldview, perhaps those who share our background and culture or of what we aspire to have–––the group that gives us the sense of belonging and, most importantly, confirms our own beliefs and, in this case, our preferred state of affairs, a shared outlook on what the world ought to look like.  The world the neo-Confederate desires and the one desired by liberal cosmopolitans are simply not the same. It is commonplace to say we all desire the same thing; it is the kind of thing one hears from politicians seeking to mediate between competing views–––“we all want the same thing,” but it is untrue, for we really don’t. I’m sorry, but coming from a white trash background myself, I can say with some authority, many among what the cosmopolitan elites perceive as the “rabble” actually prefers their rabbling ways, and has little or no interest in the things that float the boats of liberal cosmopolitans. And the ultimate vulgarian now residing in the White House exemplifies some of those very preferences. Indeed, what liberal cosmopolitans often fail to acknowledge is that there is equal contempt for one another’s worldview.  I learned long ago as a young social activist of the left not to take seriously the left’s insincere call for “power to the people,” for the people imagined are a mere abstraction, and often not really how “the people” are at all. With that said, though, there are certainly shared interests among all, and these are the interests that can serve to bring us together, to ameliorate tensions, and at least begin the process of conversion via group identity. In other words, we must grow the tribe to change things.

We human beings are naturally tribal. Our social habits are firmly ingrained, hard-wired over many millennia of evolution since our earliest primate ancestors lived in trees. However, reason does allow us to overcome some of these tendencies. The biggest tool we have is language and the ability to communicate.  We are not going to change our nature or the nature of those we oppose by argument, because our political desires, on both sides, are not ultimately based on facts or logic, but on feeling, no matter how we gussy them up with rational window dressing. We will not cause others to abandon their tribe and join ours through logical analysis, notwithstanding how we perceive their interests. Here’s what I am driving at: we must appeal to their preferences to the extent that is possible, that is, appeal to their emotional needs. This is something Trump understood, though in his case his understanding of demagoguery is at some intuitive or instinctive level rather than a cerebral one. Sometimes our preferences versus those of others are sufficiently outweighed by differences such that conversion is a lost cause. I suspect a portion of the neo-Confederacy (which I am guessing is about 30% of the electorate) is intractable. Let us say it is half or 15%.  That is a manageable number. If we can broaden the cosmopolitan tribe to 85% of the electorate, in a generation or so we can further marginalize the minority of fascistic neo-Confederates. I must add, though, that a liberal cosmopolitan is not necessarily a partisan, though philosophically the Democratic Party may be closely aligned to her outlook.

I am temperamentally ill-suited for politics as a practitioner; however, I know as an analyst, recognizing of our tribal nature, that to defeat the neo-Confederates we must both expand the number of liberal cosmopolitans and motivate those already among us who are apathetic into political action. Democrats must play the key role, I believe. There are four major tactics we must employ to conquer the neo-Confederacy once and for all.  First, we must motivate the unaligned and the young to vote and to work to defeat Trumpism as an immediate objective. Many independents are suspicious of or outright against both Trump and many of the defining characteristics of the neo-Confederacy, and recent polls show that the young reject Trumpism overwhelmingly. The young are who we need to grow the Democratic Party, and represent its best hope for the future. We must convince the independents to align with us, even if temporarily, and the latter, our youth, to go to the polls in all elections and vote their beliefs, which are for the most part aligned with the Democrats. Second, we must convert the softer neo-Confederates by appealing to as many emotional interests that we have in common–––desires and preferences–––to the degree practicable, all the while without sacrificing our most important principles, which is to say, the most vital ends of our worldview (justice, economic opportunity for all, tolerance, equality under the law, etc.). From a practical perspective, this is going to mean emphasizing more parochial issues that will vary by locality–––kitchen table, pocketbook issues–––and not just grand, national social themes. Third, we must get all those who presently identify as Democrats to vote! It remains the majority party, but has embarrassingly shameful and lackluster performance in attending the polls, and as a consequence, its political power has been materially diminished in recent decades.  And fourth, once in power, Democrats must work in state legislatures and in the courts to put a stop to the gerrymandering of congressional districts by establishing non-partisan commissions, even if that sometimes works against them. And of considerable importance, the Democratic Party must reinvigorate itself and put special emphasis on improving economic prosperity and security; providing healthcare and education for everyone; and of particular importance, rekindling hope in the possibility of upward mobility, this being a defining characteristic of the American Dream since its founding, one that has been diminished in recent decades. In other words, if we want to end this seemingly interminable war, we must defeat the neo-Confederacy by shrinking it and expanding our tribe, and not simply by condemning the former, but by making the latter the obvious choice. We must do so by appealing to our shared interests––––our preferences and desires for the kind of world we want to live in–––and motivating people to act on them at the ballot box.

Finally, I would like the Democratic Party to be the dominant party, much as it has been for decades, which is not to say that I want it to be a unitary power. I would also like to see a vibrant, responsible center-right party, a loyal opposition, for I know Democrats do not have a monopoly on good judgment, and it is good to have a check on the power of any one institution to protect the interests of all, particularly minority interests. The Republican Party can no longer be considered to be either “responsible” or “loyal”–––or even a center-right party. It has many fascistic overtones, and fascism transcends and stands apart from traditional right-left classifications. The GOP now harbors views and practices that are antithetical to the American ethos or the kind of country that so many of our forbearers aspired to create, ideals for which many have sacrificed and suffered, indeed, have even given their lives to defend. The Republican Party has cynically dabbled in supporting our enemies by either enabling or ignoring the nefarious activities of those who directly do so. It is as far removed from being the party of Abraham Lincoln or Charles Sumner as the modern Democratic Party is unlike the party of Stephen Douglas or Jefferson Davis. I don’t know if the Republican Party can recover its bearings, but I rather doubt that it will or that it even can. To my mind, now is time for the remaining responsible elements of the GOP and unaligned conservatives to form a new party, one that represents true conservatism, as opposed to the fascistic and neo-Confederate strains that have spread like a malignant cancer in the GOP––––a conservatism that in its modern incarnation is but another species of a liberal democratic outlook, an outlook that seeks to optimize individual liberty and prosperity, one where everyone has a say, and with justice and equal treatment under the law for all–––the kind of conservatism once promoted by William F. Buckley and promoted today by the likes of George Will and Brett Stephens  And along with Democrats, together, we might finally realize the original intention of Abraham Lincoln, and while respecting our several differences, consign the seeds of hateful discord and the emotional militancy that polarize us today to the dustbin of history.

Michael Berumen is a retired business executive and published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. A longtime Californian, he and his wife live happily in retirement in Colorado.