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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: 

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

By Michael E. Berumen

(Originally published in Liberal Resistance Nov 8, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America's First Fascist President

Note: republished in LiberalResistance on 10-24-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Music for the Ages and the Ageless: Younger Now (the Album): by Miley Ray Cyrus

Some of us are old enough to remember when Sgt. Pepper's came out in 1967 there were fans of the Fab Four that were disappointed. Some of the discomfited were my friends. The album was different. Very different; radical in fact. Totally unexpected. No bubble gum yeah, yeah, yeah, I wanna hold your hand pop. No hormonal, plaintive teen-angst stuff begging for Help! It was adult! And full of meaning: Almost Dylanesque in that sense. The Beatles had hinted at maturity in Rubber Soul and Revolver, but nothing quite like this before. More than that, though, it was transformational, a little weird (then), but revolutionary, as the entire music world would realize soon enough. Nothing would ever be the same again in popular music. And today, some 50-years later, it is still widely considered to be the best album ever produced within rock and its several subspecies. More than any other in popular music, Sgt. Pepper's was the transformational work. And just to add perspective to contemporaneous music criticism: the venerable New York Times' music critic, along with many others, panned the album's orchestration, construction, and lyrics.  

Ushering in the new can be hard and even controversial at first. There really have not been transformational artists in pop-rock in the last two decades. Most everything in recent years ... in rap, pop-rock, metal, hard rock, and alternative--let's just call it all rock for simplicity, for that's each species principal tap root ... has been purely derivative rather than fresh, unique, and innovative. That doesn't make it bad music. It just means it is more of the same, a rehashing of similar styles, some better than others to be sure. If it is formulaic, saccharine, and heard in elevators, in which case, chances are, it's no longer rock n roll. And as for the singing, well, vocals are only one aspect of the art ... and there are plenty of good vocalists around, look in any church choir or glee club. But there is a difference between standard choirboy/girl singing, the kind of thing one would find at any good performing arts school or a large church, and making a listener want to get out his chair. Good rock gets you out of your chair.

While some wags seem to think music springs fully-formed from the head of Zeus like Athena, unfettered by exogenous influences, the fact is that all music "appropriates" from other cultures and what precedes it. There is a lot of nonsense afoot about "appropriation" right now, and mostly by those who know nothing of music history or who wish to preen as uber-aware on racial justice. Music is also inherently iterative and recursive, and its component parts are generally not new at all. The "newness" comes about from how it's put together,  how those recursive rules are utilized, such that when it's great, the whole of the song ends up being greater than the sum of the parts.  The blending and arrangement of its constituent elements is what makes it into something innovative ... whether adding country to hip hop, or EDM to psychedelia, or combining all of these things in a way that no one else has done.

Aside from instrumentation and technology, though, an essential aspect of great music is in the lyrics ... the words the artist chooses, the fit with the composition, and the emotion they evoke.  The means by which the lyrics are conveyed is of particular importance ... the vocalization, with all of the little hiccups, legato, phrasing, staccato, projection, intonations, head and chest voices, full voice, guttural sounds, and so forth, that accompany the vocals. And not least of all, it is the intention behind the piece. Of course, rock as a genre, by its very nature, is meant to upset, to cajole, to get people to move, think, rebel against the machine, want sex, want to dance, want to punch the sky, and made to feel. It is not granola or vanilla. It is hot sauce and chocolate with nuts. It works in contrasts with misery or delight, peaks and valleys. Not an even strain or even keel or steady as she goes. Rock rattles the soul.

Comes now Miley Ray Cyrus.  Permit me to encapsulate some history, which we know began with the adorable Disney character, little Hannah Montana: precocious and pretty, safe and virginal, watchable by youngins and parents alike. Talented, but entirely Disneyfied and derivative. And then, oops, there's Bangerz.  Or as Little Richard said back in rock's most formative years: "Good golly Miss Molly, sure like to ball.When you're rockin' and a rollin' can't hear your momma call!"  Imagine what the critics said about that! With Bangerz, parents' and their kids' wigs are flying topsy-turvy, each for entirely different reasons -- and Miley Cyrus emerges.  And many are of course outraged by this transformation. All of the sudden virginal Hannah is gone, and a young woman with the normal urges of a young woman (we fathers don't always like that) comes forth in music, and she even does it on a public stage and in video in a very explicit way!  Parents who thought Madonna was great 30 years before are suddenly sounding like pinched Puritans fresh off the Mayflower. Simultaneously, we learn then that this is an artist who can indeed both sing and rock out, and adopt and adapt various styles to her purpose, and we see even today people imitating what she perfected then, from Demi to Katy to Taylor. And on its heals, some side-show events soon occurred with Miley covering some greats in her backyard, and all without artifice or electronic aids, proving once and for all that this girl has an incredible vocal ability: a four-octave range with the ability to transition from contralto to mezzo soprano, smoothly,with resonance, and also from one genre to another with relative ease.

But then, what does she do? She goes and changes again! And again it irritates and alienates those who want more of the same. Some fans skip it as an aberration, even today some do, thinking it best forgotten. She gave the album away for free. Who does that?  Well, Miley Cyrus does. And here, in Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, we see she is not only a great performer, but also an artist .. and a musician that is to be reckoned with.  Petz is a psychedelic pot pouri modernized with electronica with hints of hip hop and country. The best writing on it is what she wrote herself. It also showed she is a formidable lyricist, and that she is to John Lennon's depth what Taylor Swift is to Paul McCartney's cleverness. Critics such as the most well-known Miley-hating screed, Pitchfork, saw it as a vanity project. But tell me, what kind of art isn't inherently vain? One wants others to see it or hear it ... it is an expression of oneself.  Art is inherently exhibitionist, and it is therefore "vain" by definition. 

Lo! yet another change: Younger Now. Which brings us to today and my main purpose, here. As one might expect, there's already been negative commentary from the peanut gallery--consisting of those stuck in the past and, predictably, don't want this "new" Miley. Heavens, it has country, they say. It's a craven appeal to the general public, to Nashville even, they say--God help us--or that her new sound (specifically in "Malibu") is creepily pure as one wag in the New Yorker said. USA Today, hardly the ex cathedra source of musical analysis for aficionados, but read by many, says it's at once sanitized and tame. Huh? And, oh yes, that she left the hood behind after exploiting it, as though every rapper were from Compton and didn't borrow English, iambic pentameter, and 4/4 beats ... among many other "cultural appropriations". We want Bangerzley back, they say. Here's the thing, though. Bangerzley never left! Nor did Hannah. Nor did Petzley. They are all there.  But with more.

This is the same Miley.  But it's a Miley who has changed and does not deny who or what she was, for who she was is still a part of what she is today. It is the becoming Miley. Much as we all should be: becoming--emergent--building on our past. It is Miley's acceptance of who she was, a past that does not wholly define her now. It is also an appreciation and re-absorption of a time (be it idealized or real) before the pressure of having to be something else, having to prove something to others, having to escape, to leap in the herky-jerky way from childhood to young adulthood ... a process we all go through one way or another ... and along with the comfort and happiness that eventually comes to many of us from not having to justify or excuse who one was then or who one is today, and becoming comfortable in one's own skin. USA Today and others missed that. But many more serious music critics are getting it right. Did we expect she should be the 15-year old virginal girl next door all her life? Or that forever she must appear as a 20-year old vixen in spandex and pasties? Or can we now just simply accept she is now a grown woman with an extraordinary gift for music, music that will reflect who she is at any given time, an authentic person, not simply a pop star, and that who she is will evolve over time, as is the case with all of us one might hope.

Younger Now, the album, is a musical masterpiece.  I don't use such an appellation lightly.  Consisting of 11 simple songs, Miley collaborated with the musical polymath, Oren Yoel, who was the producer and instrumentalist on the album. Miley performed all of the vocals on ten of the songs, including the back-up vocals, as she nearly always does. Miley wrote all the lyrics herself except for "Rainbowland," where she collaborated on both the writing and singing with her Godmother and country legend, Dolly Parton. Miley has given various explanations for the overarching theme of the album, including--as I said before-- getting in touch with one's inner child, the freedom before the onset of late-teen and early-adult angst. Another is that she sees some of it as speaking out against ageism and division, and with the hope of bringing people together. This is quite consistent with some remarks she's made on the political front ... seeking to unify through music, notwithstanding differences in opinions. She has a very definite liberal outlook on a host of issues, and has been outspoken; but she is wont to get along with those who don't share her view ... characteristic of her according to those who know her best, such as her musical manager Stacy Jones, for we are told she is pathologically authentic and preternaturally nice, wanting as much as anything to be liked by all and to like them in return.

Some of the album shows anger or emotional turmoil resulting from episodes in Miley's life ... and in at least in one case, in the life of a friend. Listening closely, one will find influences of multiple genres throughout the album, but I think it can best be described as more classical, early rock or rockabilly in terms of overall orientation. To be sure, there are big strains of country ... but also hints of hip hop, pop-rock, psychedelic, EDM, and alternative ... But it's Miley Cyrus most of all. That's important; and it's also the "beauty part," as old timers in New York are wont to say. It has her sometimes idiosyncratic idiom and grammar, her Tennessee twang, and, characteristically, it's also part autobiography. It also has the infectious punctuations ... the yeahs, and the ohs, and the guttural exclamations, breaks, and hiccups that characterize her vocals. One of the things that makes her music outstanding to me is that I can listen to it over long periods. There are other great vocalists and artists that I can listen to, but usually for only a few songs before I need something else. Miley, like only a handful of others, is someone I can listen to for hours at a time without a break. This album makes one want to drive and drive in the car, like the old days with my eight track ... not stopping til it's over, going around the block just one more time until it is and before pulling into the garage.

I'll make some brief observations about each piece, beginning with the two about which I've already written in separate articles, and at much greater length than I'll do here.

The eponymous song, "Younger Now," blends country, pop, rock of an older era, and electronica all into one, and it manages to lyrically convey the idea that, while Cyrus has changed, that she is not who she was, she still embraces her past, and it affirms what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggested long ago, that change is the only thing that is constant and the central principle of the universe. The obvious implication is that she will change again. Thus Cyrus writes, "no one stays the same," and she like Heraclitus proclaims the ultimate unity of opposites, "what goes up must come down." It also says something powerful about emerging from youth, which is, that once one stops working so hard to be and appear older, and quits grasping at the illusion of freedom from authority, in this case, the shackles of childhood and the rigors of television stardom at a young age, one feels a certain sense of relief, indeed, younger than those years of tumult and discovery most of us experience in mid-adolescence to the onset of adulthood, and therefore, "I feel so much younger now."  In other words, perhaps like she felt once before all the Sturm und Drang occurred, when she was a happy-go-lucky girl (as those who know her best say she was). The lyrics are simple, but beautiful, and packed with meaning. She sings smoothly, deliberately, and without showing off. There are no giant belts or glass-shattering notes. The volume is fairly fixed and the enunciation clear. Her notes are both precise and to the point without unnecessary embellishment.

"Malibu" is a love song, highly personal, as has been much of her music. It's upbeat with some definite foot-tapping, torso moving, and head bobbing back-beats. Lyrically simple, Miley’s voice is in wonderful form, and her accent is subtly present, as is her easy conversational idiom. This is not a power ballad, but it has a couple of soaring moments, notably a run with some progressively louder and higher ahhhs that caused some chills in my spine first time I heard it. Unlike so many in recent generations, Miley does not engage in gratuitous runs or melisma to cover for a lack of precision or pitch problems as has become all too common. She uses them sparingly, but when she does, she does so with ease. For much of the song, one can almost imagine her singing it lovingly to her lover as part of a conversation on a park bench. It's what the kids call a "bop".

"Rainbowland" is a joint effort with Miley's Godmother, Dolly Parton, one of the greatest songwriters and country artists of any era. Their writing styles and voices fit hand and glove, and it is bound to be a classic and loved by people of all musical persuasions.  It might be the song that has the greatest crossover appeal in the world of country, in no small part because of the inimitable Dolly .. although there are others that could well cross that line too. Miley comes by country honestly, for Dolly and her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, after all, are country royalty .. and she's sat on the knee of many a country legend since she was born. And it is simply undeniable that a great deal of Miley's work from the very beginning has had a distinctive country aspect in her presentation. In a recent interview with the Recording Academy, she said that she and Dolly wrote the song, "because we wanted to write a song that could really make a difference — that could speak to the current situation of not only our country but the world. It says 'We are Rainbows/Me and you/Every color/Every hue,' and it's about embracing everyone that is different."  Along with "Inspired," it is a song with a message, a plea, really, but not heavy handed and both sweet and persuasive.

"Week Without You" is a breakup song of sorts. Internet wags have already speculated that it has to do with Miley's breakup in 2013. Perhaps. I'll wait for Miley to tell us that. Maybe it's just the recapture of some of the things she recollects that she was feeling then, and with some poetic license that includes what one imagines they might have felt in circumstances that didn't occur, which, of course, is what songwriters do.  As method actors know, the same emotion can in fact underlie different events or thoughts or lyrics. More accurately, I think it's a hypothetical break-up, but within the context of how she might feel or might have felt. We all know she knows the emotion that accompanies a breakup; she can evince that emotion without being specific about the details of what really happened.  On the one hand she sings, "I know that I gave you my heart. But you stomped it to the ground, And that's what got me wondering what it's like, To not have you around."  As though she's only wondering, not acting on it. Then she says, "don't want to wonder what it's like ... To not have you around ...You know I'd miss you, baby." Which is why I say it's hypothetical, not historical. The song is sung at once matter-of-factly and plaintively. No vocal pyrotechnics, mostly staccato, but with a toe-tapping back-beat, with a smooth intro with piano and guitar, and with a very fifties kind of rock sound as one finds in other pieces in this album. It is lyrically and rhythmically tight, and Miley is using her very solid rock voice, which, in my opinion, is her best voice, one that only a handful of women singers can equal, and none of the current generation can surpass. This is really a perfect song.

"Miss You So Much" is one of the finest love songs ever written. By a 24-year old, no less. So accuse me of hyperbole. But I am right. It is also as country as can be, even more than "Rainbowland," and with just the right amount of pop elements to keep her traditional pop-rocker fans satisfied. And the lyrics are both tight and beautiful. It apparently is about a friend's loss of a lover who overdosed. It is a very moving piece, and one with which most people can probably identify. "They say love can drive you crazy, My dear, Wanna trap you in a locket. Or in a pocket. So I can keep you near. No I'd never hurt you, If you fall I'd pick you up and drink your tears. But how can I miss you so much, When you're right here." One might imagine someone at a gravesite. Or holding a picture. And who in the early stage of a romance with the love of your life has not felt similarly? ... that even when the one you love is by your side you cannot get enough, and your need for that person is insatiable. It leaves to the imagination what's going through Miley's or her protagonist's mind ... and that is what good songwriting should do.  Oren's steel guitar work is a perfect touch to this wonderful piece. 

"I Would Die For You" is part confessional and part commitment. It's a beautiful testimony to love, at once plaintive and at times forelorn. "You are everything to me, And I would die for you ... There have been times I was up all night, Crying in the dark so I sleep with the light on. I've heard I've got words like a knife that I don't always choose just so wisely. But I see trees in the colored leaves when I think about all we could be." Oren Yoel's backing guitar is just right. Miley gives a few hints of her upper range ... which is very large .. but there is nothing show-offy.  The background chorus (by Miley) is haunting.

"Thinkin" is a lover's complaint. It's about absence and longing .. "you ain't been callin me enough (nough nough nough)  now I'm longing for your touch (touch touch touch)."  It's about being pissed off, but wanting someone, nonetheless: "I don't know where you always go ... we ain't got nothing if we ain't got no trust." It is the kind of song you can expect a lot of young people are going to be lip synching very soon. I think it applies to both sexes of all sexual orientations at one time or another. "I been thinking way too much (much, much, much) ... you won't pick up the phone (phone phone phone)." I mean, who hasn't felt that at one time or another in a romantic thrall? This song has a very definite hip hop punch in the chorus ... "All I do is think about you" with countryesque refrains.  It's a great mixture of sounds.

"Bad Mood" is similar to "Thinkin" in the sense there's some anger, but there's confidence in it, and saying to her lover just exactly what the case is going to be.  "And I wonder what you would do, yeah, if you couldn't rely on me ... I always wake up in a bad mood ... You, know, it's gone on way too long, and you know it's wrong ... and when it gets rough I get tough ... I've had enough."  You can visualize Miley punching the sky, her eyes on fire, and poking someone in the chest as she lays down the law.  Oren's percussive work is splendid and makes it a fine head-bobbing piece. Kids are gonna be humming along on this one. It's driving music. 

And if you're looking for something with some classic rock guitaring by Oren, very reminiscent of 60s bands like the Kinks, and with even more pointed anger, from Miley, then"Love Someone" is your song.  Here Miley goes full Taylor Swift with some bluesy-to-rock vocals. "Ever since the day that I met you, I knew you weren't the one. But nothing ever stops me from forgetting packing all my shit and moving on ... to make someone stay you gotta love someone, You gotta love someone (Hey!)." This song is going sure to arouse some feelings on the part of anyone who is aggrieved with a failed romance with a self-centered and, what would appears to be, an unromantic lover. It's pretty clear this is not about the person with whom she is engaged to be married, and who has been her principal love interest since her mid teens.  

Much has been said about Miley's sexuality, not least of all by herself. She came out as pansexual in 2015. I won't speculate on who this song is about, but hints are readily available on the public record. "She's Not Him" is a love song and a lament of sorts, a dolorous kind of apology to someone who loves her. There's some Dead Petz elements to this ... both with Miley's vocal background and Oren's instrumentals.  It is about loving someone other than the someone who loves you, and in this case, there's a woman with whom she cannot fall in love, and a man who she does love, and try as the other woman might, it's not going to happen for her, because she cannot ever be him. "No matter what you say, no matter what you do, I just can't fall in love with you, cuz you're not him."  It's a sweet song, even a mournful and apologetic one, for she knows it's hurtful to another, someone she doesn't want to hurt, but she has no choice. "You don't deserve all the bullshit I put you through ... Every time you walk through the door, I swear to God you're more beautiful than before, but you're not him." Feelings are incorrigible, after all, and they can't be willed away.

"Inspired" was released as a single after "Malibu" and before "Younger Now," and its proceeds were donated to Miley's charity, the Happy Hippie Foundation. It is a wonderful piece, one reminiscent of Lennon's "Imagine" in its simple beauty and profound meaning. It is not a rock piece or what the young people call a "bop." She was motivated to write this when she supported Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2016, though it's allusion to contemporaneous politics is not immediately apparent. And just like "Imagine," which nearly fifty years later we hear being played today, "Inspired" has not been a chart burner; however, it will undoubtedly outlive many that ultimately will be consigned to the dustbin of forgettable songs.  Lennon: "You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us., And the world will be as one." Miley: "How can we escape all the fear and all the hate? Is anyone watching us down here? Death is life, it's not a curse. Reminds us of time and what it's worth. To make the most out of it while we're here."  Every time I hear this song I am moved. And something else: Lennon knew how to make number one hits as well as anyone if not better; but he began to write for the sake of art in his late twenties and early thirties, and to a point where he no longer cared about the charts. It's pretty obvious that young Miley Cyrus is already at that point, let the chips fall where they may, she is going to do what she wants. And very frankly, that is one of the things that separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff in great musical artistry. Genius doesn't require consensus.  We who are not geniuses eventually come around.

The overarching theme of the album is surely autobiographical ... and if it is not in completely accurate in its details, I suspect it depicts real emotions about real events, and it's intended to evince and evoke those feelings. It is mostly old fashioned countrified rock n roll (which, after all, is rooted in rhythm and blues, Gospel, and country), though filtered through the lens of some modern electronic wizardry, and with hints of hip hop and other genres throughout. It also puts the lie to the notion that she abandoned hip hop, by the way, which she neither said nor did, but was falsely accused of doing, or of wearing "black" like some sort of costume and then throwing it away. Nothing could be further from the truth. That she incorporated some hip hop iconography in her music is little different than African Americans adopting rock iconography, as Prince did routinely, to cite one of many examples, moving back and forth among genres.  She abandoned misogyny and objectification and, as a husband, brother, son, and the father of a girl, I am grateful for that.  While I have my favorites, and some pieces are better than others, it is as good as an album can be. Pertinent, authentic, and often enough, simply riveting.

Here's the thing, folks. Miley Ray Cyrus is a formidable artist, one for this era and for eras to come.  Elvis is one of her musical heroes, and one can feel his influence throughout in the way she attacks the vocals and the visuals on video and stage.  I venture to say she is the natural heir to Elvis in presentation, perhaps more than any other artist in recent memory, and maybe ever. No male has pulled it off as well ... The King's chemistry is hard to describe, but there's a lot of it in this small package.  One of my friends referred to her as the musical lovechild of Elvis and Madonna. That seems quite apt to me. Lyrically, however, she has more in common with Lennon and Dylan. She has Elvis-like intonations and the charisma and revolutionary spirit of both Elvis and Madonna, who, I might add, were both castigated for a variety of reasons in their day, too, for not being good musically to being merely prurient. Those sages are dead and forgotten. Elvis and Madonna are secure.  I keep repeating this, but Miley Cyrus is only 24!  It is easy to forget how young she is given that she's been a public figure for a decade. But she came into her own just a few years ago. Lennon and McCartney were several years older when Sgt. Pepper's was released, and Madonna had yet to put out her first album at Miley's age.  Mark my words, this work will be imitated in short order. Much as Shania put some pop-rock in country, Miley is putting country back into pop-rock, much as it was some seven decades ago. There can be little doubt that she will be much more than a footnote when the history of this era's music is written. She's already a shelf of books unto herself, and I suspect she's only scratched the surface.

Michael Berumen 9-28-2017

Younger Now (song): Miley Ray Cyrus Paean to Change

Miley Cyrus has proved she is the only young woman in pop-rock today whose music is not fundamentally derivative. Nothing in music stands alone completely apart from the past, and all music relies on appropriation from it. However, the most seminal artists who set the stage for the future figure out a way to combine and improve upon the most worthwhile elements of the past to create something different. Music becomes sanitized, vanilla, overproduced, and formulaic in time, that is, until the next leap forward, and that leap is not always even noticeable at the time it occurs by many contemporaries, and often appreciated only when looking back with greater distance and clarity. Cognoscenti and people stuck in the music of their generation are often quick to dismiss or, in some circumstances, even revile revolutionaries, but I am sure that time will prove to be on my side in this case, and with the critics and the public alike. Miley Ray Cyrus is such a revolutionary, and her revolution began with Bangerz. Watch many of the videos of today and listen to the music. You will see the and hear much that first germinated there, though it is seldom remarked upon now. And like any proper revolutionary, she continues to explore, upset, provoke, and transform.

In terms of vocal style, songwriting, innovation, and presence, Cyrus falls in line with the likes of Elvis, Lennon, Bowie, and Madonna. I choose these artists for a reason. She has the magnetism and charisma of Elvis, and his innate vocal talent to sing with alacrity in multiple genres and with a broad vocal range, including the ability to croon a ballad, sing country, or rock out. She has the deep and provocative writing skills of John Lennon, and she is a master of idiomatic usage, with the solecisms and idiosyncrasies of common and regional parlance, as is done with mastery by all great writers from Shakespeare to Dylan. Bowie on the other hand was a musical chameleon, and he could innovate in one style and then, in a seeming instant, he'd change and innovate in a completely different one; young Cyrus is already onto her fourth significant stylistic difference.  And Madonna was the first modern female pop star who ably used all aspects of performance artistry, including vocals, writing, visuals, and choreography, thereby creating comprehensive performance art, and yet, unlike many who followed, her singular presence, a veritable force of nature, was always the dominant part of the presentation. One simply cannot take one's eyes off of her, notwithstanding what's happening peripherally, and the same is true of Cyrus.   More than one less capable artist uses staging to distract from what would otherwise be a mediocre song and vocal ability. But Cyrus is more than anything a vocalist and a songwriter, and she does not need props to make her presence known.

I have made the case for her genius elsewhere, one which was nascent in Bangerz, but became especially evident in Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz. And now we have the first three songs from her album, Younger Now, including the eponymous single just released. The lyrics in her new album and this piece are all written solely by Cyrus, and the musical composition was co-written and co-produced by Oren Yoel.  Yoel, a multi-instrumentalist, did much of the instrumentation himself.  It is but more eating of the pudding that has served to validate my earlier arguments. Miley Cyrus is a musical genius, and she stands apart from her contemporaries, not because she is the best at some single thing, but because she does the entire thing in a better and more novel way, which is to say, she does things that no one else does.  The one, single thing I do think she does better than anyone else among her contemporaries, though, is write with a kind of simple profundity that only a handful of artists in pop-rock have been able to do, and Lennon and Dylan come to my mind.  She is only 24, and I am thinking of what they wrote at a similar time in their lives (yes, I was around then!), and I must say, she is equal to them at that stage in their careers, albeit, not as prolific.  I am excited about what lies ahead.

"Younger Now" blends country, pop, rock of an older era, and electronica all into one, and it manages to lyrically convey the idea that, while Cyrus has changed, that she is not who she was, she still embraces her past, and it affirms what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggested long ago, that change is the only thing that is constant and the central principle of the universe. The obvious implication is that she will change again. Thus Cyrus writes, "no one stays the same," and she like Heraclitus proclaims the ultimate unity of opposites, "what goes up must come down." It also says something powerful about emerging from youth, which is, that once one stops working so hard to be and appear older, and quits grasping at the illusion of freedom from authority, in this case, the shackles of childhood and the rigors of television stardom at a young age, one feels a certain sense of relief, indeed, younger than those years of tumult and discovery most of us experience in mid-adolescence to the onset of adulthood, and therefore, "I feel so much younger now."  In other words, perhaps like she felt once before all the Sturm und Drang occurred, when she was a happy-go-lucky girl (as those who know her best say she was). The lyrics are simple, but beautiful, and packed with meaning. They include nothing gratuitous or nonsensical. I was very much reminded of some of Lennon's early-middle work, and particularly some of his contributions to Sgt. Pepper's, arguably the most important album in pop-rock.

One of the regrettable trends in today's popular music is the advent of the overuse of melisma and gratuitous runs, beginning in the early nineties. This has morphed into gratuitous warbling around notes throughout a song that the amateur might consider to be indicative of great skill, when, in fact, it is often used to obfuscate a lack of precise pitch. There is a place for a run and for melisma, but they should be used more sparingly. Cyrus is more than capable of using many vocal techniques to full effect. She has a four-octave range, and unlike most females i the soprano range , she can comfortably perform as a lyric contralto, a rare and difficult area for most women. Her natural state is that of mezzo-soprano. In "Younger Now," Cyrus sings smoothly, deliberately, and without showing off.  There are no giant belts or glass-shattering notes. The volume is fairly fixed and the enunciation clear. Her Nashville twang is there, but it never overwhelms. Her notes are both precise and to the point without unnecessary embellishment. There is nothing flashy or jarring. It is just perfectly done for the task at hand.

The video for "Younger Now" is very possibly her best yet, which is not inconsequential given the excellence of both "Wrecking Ball" and "We Can't Stop." It was co-directed by Cyrus and Diane Martel. I was told that Cyrus did her own styling and makeup. Indeed, I think this video stands up well to the best of both Madonna and Lady Gaga, arguably among the greatest in videographic performance art. It is not full of whizbang pyrotechnics, however, and it is not particularly complex in choreography like, say, some of Beyonce or Madonna's work.  It does however make considerable use of symbolism and iconography, which is certainly reminiscent of Madonna's finest early work.

Obviously my interpretation of the video could well be wrong, but I'd be surprised if I were far off on most of it. It is to no small degree autobiographical. It begins with some natural sound effects: rain, crickets, and a croaking frog, which rumor has it is Cyrus' famous pet frog, Angel...and then a pass by some books on a shelf, including a very noticeable book about Elvis Presley, and then Cyrus waking up in bed, a child-sized twin bed as a grown woman, which I take to symbolize a new beginning, and a new person, while the past, she sings, all seems rather like a dream. She makes it clear that she is not the same as before, but that she likes and does not disown who she was before. One of the most interesting parts is Cyrus and a small puppet that strikingly resembles her younger self and stage persona, the virginal all-American girl that she left behind...and that, when she did leave her manufactured self behind, upset so many...and an image which she appeared for several years to wholly reject by acting opposite of it. Here, she seems at once charmed and bemused by her former self ... indeed, even shows shows affection for her former self. She includes children and old people in various places in the video, representing the fact that we all were young and are certain to grow old, but that the old have not forgotten what it was like to be young at the same time, as shown by their doing some things one might only expect a youngster to do, including even some gymnastics.  Cyrus shows herself in different eras: countryfied, rocking out, hip hop, pole dancing, and so forth, and she ends with a homage to the past in rock and roll, with some simple dancing surrounded by old and young dancers, rather reminiscent of dancing at the hop or American Bandstand in the fifties or early sixties (she is a noted admirer and expert on early rock, according to her longtime associate, Stacy Jones). This segment also includes a few moves that remind one of the hoedown-throwdown dance of Hannah Montana fame.

There is even an apparent allusion to her admitted sexual fluidity, including a big lip-kissing smackeroo planted one of the older ladies bedecked in a Bangeresqe outfit and hair style. In another segment she appears to be a life-sized puppet, which I take as an allusion to her Disney studio days and as a child star under the control of others, and perhaps even a subtle swipe at her objectification. Her attire ranges from country classic, a la her godmother Dolly Parton, as she cruises down the boulevard on a float, to Elvis in his earlier rocker stage to his latter Liberace-Las Vegas phase, complete with a rhinestone jumpsuit, stiff turned-up collar and huge belt buckle, and even Elvis-like coif, to simple, old-fashioned girlish femininity in a 1950's style get-up, with coquettish hair flipping and purposeful cuteness.

Cyrus makes several clear references to her controversial Bangerz era (which really only contained a couple of songs one might consider to be influenced significantly by hip hop), including one of her famous out-of-the-hood poses with a full-toothed grin straight out of "We Can't Stop," whilst surrounded by the old men and ladies in full Bangerz pose. This was a deliberate statement, having been accused of abandoning hip hop, and of course she was falsely accused of appropriating and exploiting "black culture," abandoning it, then disrespecting it. This was a complete misrepresentation of the facts, and it is perpetrated by those who know little of either anthropology or musicology, and completely ignore what she was really rejecting. and I have dealt with that issue elsewhere. It is enough to say here that what she abandoned was not a culture, but misogyny and the objectification of women, and she does not deny her own role in both, but now hopes to be a better role model for girls. That is called maturity. As for exploitation, that is almost laughable when juxtaposed with those in the hip-hop music industry who do it daily and give back nothing to anyone, as compared to what she does with considerable generosity. She has changed.

I am pretty sure there is still much to be discovered in this video that symbolizes different aspects of her life. In the meantime, in the absence of a blow-by-blow description from her, I must be content with some educated guesses. It is enough to say, here, that it is a remarkable video ... and, in fact, it is a work of visual and musical art.  And while many themes are incorporated, the constant one is the idea of change being a certainly ... and that that it is something to embrace.

To conclude, I am going to hazard a guess that the album to be released in September will be the pop-rock album of the year, if not in sales and awards, then most certainly in historical terms.  I did not use the Sgt. Pepper's reference casually before. And that, the judgment of history, is the more important thing in the final analysis. Cyrus is already very wealthy and famous the world over at a very young age. I know enough about her to know that what she does now is not really for material gain ... for a person of her wealth, she lives rather simply, and managing her charities and being with her family seem much more important to her than leading the life of a Kardashian. I think she makes music because that is the very center of her being ... and that her ultimate goal is to create great art. She has already done that.

Other Miley Cyrus Articles:

21st Century Pop Rock Queen: Miley Ray Cyrus

The Vicissitudes of Genius: Miley Cyrus and Her Critics

Miley Cyrus and Malibu: Coming of Age in Art and Life