Friday, February 12, 2016

Seymour Lipset Solved It Years Ago: The Not So Complicated Riddle of Donald Trump and Working Class Authoritarianism

I have a new piece over at Salon which examines the popularity of Donald Trump by using some new data from the Rand Corporation and Seymour Lipset's concept of "working class authoritarianism". This most recent essay, along with my writing on Trump and "terror management theory" are among my personal favorites in recent years (and at the risk of sounding arrogant and conceited I also think those two essays are very important).

Seymour Lipset was a giant of the Social Sciences. I always marvel at how most scholarship is ephemeral except to the few other people who study the same minutia, yet some work remains relevant (and sometimes becomes even more so) long after a given thinker has passed away. Richard Hofstadter explained today's Republican Party fifty years ago. Seymour Lipset understood the "Trumpeteers".  I wonder, what would Eric Hobsbawn have to say about today's Republican Party and its white working class revolt?

And of course, W.E.B. Du Bois and his understanding of the "psychological wages of whiteness" is the shadow hanging over most of American history.

Writing over at the Democracy Journal, Jordan Michael Smith summoned Lipset's work with the following incisive observation:
First, let’s look at what we know about Trump’s fans. They are far less likely to have a college degree than those partial to other Republican presidential candidates, and they also make less than $50,000 annually. In addition—and this really contradicts Judis’s theory—they describe themselves as “conservatives” wholeheartedly. Indeed, Trump is attracting as many conservatives as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Jeb Bush combined. 
A white lower-educated supporter on the lower-income scale is not what we normally term middle-class: It’s more aptly called the working-class. Which is why William Galston of the Brookings Institution analyzed the data and wrote that “Trump is the staunchest champion of the white working class that American politics has seen in decades.” Combine their class with their self-declared conservatism and you have the people Lipset described. 
According to Lipset, “authoritarian predispositions and ethnic prejudice flow more naturally from the situation of the lower classes than from that of middle and upper classes.” These were the people who formed the base of the Nazi labor unions (Lipset was writing in 1959), the White Citizen’s Councils in the segregated American south, and race rioters in England. Lipset continued, “working-class groups have proved to be the most nationalistic and jingoistic sector of the population. In a number of nations, they have clearly been in the forefront of the struggle against equal rights for minority groups, and have sought to limit immigration or to impose racial standards in countries with open immigration.” This, of course, describes a Donald Trump rally almost perfectly.
As I am fond of saying, the corporate news media treats Donald Trump's rise--and other matters of public policy, more generally--as "unknown unknowns". They create a mystery in order to partly solve it, as a full explanation does not drive ratings or leave them with future stones to overturn..and to then feign being aghast at the wiggly worms, mold, and rot they find underneath.

Trumpmania and his power over the Trumpeteers is a basic function of racism, economic insecurity, Right-wing propaganda, and death anxieties among the white public. Right-wing producerism and working class authoritarianism are the key frameworks which explain Trump's strategy and appeal.

Is it all that simple? Alternatively, is it much more complicated than I have suggested?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Conversation With Philosopher David Theo Goldberg About the Global Color Line and Race in America

Philosopher David Theo Goldberg is the guest on this week's installment of The Chauncey DeVega Show. Dr. Goldberg is one of the world's leading thinkers and writers on matters of race and the global color line. He is the author of numerous books and articles including the most recent Are We All 'Post Racial' Yet?. He is the Director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute and holds numerous faculty appointments at the University of California-Irvine.

Professor Goldberg's work has influenced a generation of students and scholars. His book The Racial State and The Threat of Race are two of the most necessary works for understanding the relationship between race, power, governmentality, and the neoliberal present. 

Professor Goldberg does some great sharing and teaching in this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show. David and Chauncey talk about Donald Trump, working class white authoritarianism, and how racism has evolved in the United States. Professor Goldberg also shares some stories about his career path where he worked with the Kurtis Blow on his classic rap video for the song "Basketball", New York before its "Disneyfication", David Bowie, Apartheid-era South Africa, the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, and of course the 1980s docudrama Shaka Zulu. 

Dr. Goldberg was a great conversation partner and storyteller.

This week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show also features a special guest. Chauncey's mother stops by the virtual bar and salon. Be forewarned as she does not care about political correctness. Chauncey DeVega and his mother talk about Donald Trump, black people receiving poor service at restaurants, Chris Christie's weight, and her support of Republican John Kasich. 

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show can be downloaded from Libsyn and also listened to here

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes and at Stitcher as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why Do the So-Called "Smart People" Feign Surprise at the Power of Bigotry? A Quick Take on Donald Trump's Exit Polling Data in New Hampshire

"For the longest time I wouldn't believe it, and then I saw the fields with my own eyes."

Should we be surprised? And where do we go from here?

One of my recurring complaints about the so-called political chattering classes is that few of them actually have any training or expertise in political science or sociology. They watch the horse race but miss the bigger picture about the sport.

CNN offers the following exit polling data from New Hampshire:
Half said they wanted a political outsider; 57 percent in this group backed Trump. (The next closest was Ted Cruz, at just 12 percent).

Four in 10 were angry with the Obama administration; Trump won 39 percent of their votes. (Next closest, Cruz, 17 percent).

Two-thirds said they support Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. He won 42 percent of their votes.

Four in 10 supported deporting undocumented immigrants; Trump won 46 percent in this group

Seven in 10 said they’re “very” worried about the economy. Trump won 35 percent of them.

Six in 10 were “very” worried about terrorism. Trump got 36 percent of their votes.

A fifth of Republican voters were looking for a candidate who “tells it like it is.” While not a large group, it was Trump’s single best – he won 63 percent of their votes.

He also won 34 percent of those focused on focused on “change.”

Voters who haven’t gone beyond high school were Trump’s best group by education; he won 45 percent of their votes. His support fell as education increased, to 21 percent among voters with a post-graduate education – still highly competitive even in that group.

Trump also did notably well in one further group – winning four in 10 of those who are optimistic about life for the next generation of Americans.

His support was remarkably consistent among many other groups – by gender, ideology, partisanship, income and most age groups, save seniors.
The polling numbers for Trump should be of concern to reasonable people, not because he won New Hampshire, but because these numbers are none too different from what we know about today's Republican voters en masse. Fear, racism, reactionary values, and Obama derangement syndrome are the core values of conservatism as a type of political religion.

Why do the so-called "smart people" feign surprise at that fact?

Donald Trump Returned to His Professional Wrestling Roots to Win New Hampshire

Donald Trump won the Republican New Hampshire primary by a wide margin.

As I have suggested several times before, Trump is modeling his persona and campaign off of a "heel" (the villain) in professional wrestling. He lost his energy in Iowa; he got it back in New Hampshire by following the professional wrestling script.

Trump has called Ted Cruz a "pussy", said that Iowa was "stolen" from him, and gave a rambling speech to celebrate his victory in New Hampshire. The crowd erupted with chants of "U.S.A.". All we now need are women throwing their moist panties and sweaty bras onto the stage for Donald Trump's performance to achieve perfection.

It would seem that Donald Trump followed the advice I offered him several days ago in the essay below.

[And to my great pleasure, professional wrestling legend, the one and only Jim Cornette, gave his approval via Twitter to my analysis]

What comes next good people? "Trumpmania" is running wild! Will it burn itself out?


“Trumpmania” was not running wild during the Iowa caucuses. He finished second behind Ted Cruz. Donald Trump, the man who always wins and never loses suffered a powerful body blow in a political fight that many observers believed he was predestined to win.
The question now becomes, how will Donald Trump respond in next week’s New Hampshire presidential primary?
Donald Trump is a political performance artist. His oeuvre draws inspiration from several backgrounds simultaneously.
Donald Trump is a con artist and a Mark Twain-like confidence man who makes ridiculous promises that his desperate followers trick themselves into believing. Donald Trump is also a magician who uses rhetorical evasion, doublespeak and sleight of hand to work his public and the news media.
But most important, Donald Trump is a student of professional wrestling. As I pointed out in an earlier essay here at Salon, he is one of the greatest villains (or in the parlance of professional wrestling a “heel”) in American public life.
(To my surprise, even the New York Times’ resident conservative David Brooks has accepted the veracity of my Donald Trump as professional wrestler framework.)
Trump’s connections with professional wrestling are much deeper than a friendship and association with the company now known as World Wrestling Entertainment and its owner (and fellow billionaire) Vince McMahon.
As I suggested back in August:
Of course, most Americans are probably now most likely to associate Trump with his maddening and ridiculous, yet unexpectedly ascendant, campaign for president. And yet, believe it or not, his time spent in the world of professional wrestling is invaluable for understanding the path he has cut through the GOP primary field — because the playbook employed by Trump over the past several months bears an uncanny resemblance to the storytelling and character-building stratagem of professional wrestling. One could even be forgiven for concluding that Trump is directly calling on his knowledge and love of the performance art to create one of the most captivating — and entertaining — political stories of recent vintage.
Professional wrestling is a spectacular type of storytelling that draws on classic narrative forms to emotionally engage the audience with the physical feats that occur inside the ring. At both its best and worst, professional wrestling is exaggerated, ridiculous, over the top and outsized. In fulfilling that role, the best professional wrestlers take an aspect of their own personality and “turn the volume all the way up.” In all, they are actors who sacrifice their bodies for the pleasures of the audience in a simulated contest of physical skill.
Of course, Donald Trump is not taking “bumps,” i.e., actually fighting with his political rivals inside a wrestling ring. But, he is engaged in political combat.
As such, the typologies of the professional wrestling heel inform Donald Trump’s political shtick.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Donald Trump is a Political Necromancer With an Army of Right-wing Zombies Under His Command

Donald Trump is a political cult leader. In that role, he is also a political necromancer, beating a drum of nativism and fear to control the right-wing political zombies that follow him.
The Republican Party’s base of voters is rapidly shrinking. Contemporary conservatism is a throwback ideology that is unpopular with a large and growing segment of the American public. The result of these two factors is a Republican Party and American conservative establishment that is under threat, obsolescent and in a deep existential crisis.
These are the conditions that have catapulted Donald Trump to the forefront of the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Trump’s most strident supporters are found among the alienated, disaffected, fearful, white working class. This is a cohort whose members are facing greatly diminished life chances in an age of globalization, extreme wealth inequality, neoliberalism and a reduction in the unearned material advantages that come as a result of white privilege. As recent research by public health experts, sociologists, economists and others has detailed, the white American working class and poor are, quite literally, dying off. They are killing themselves with pills and alcohol, committing suicide with guns, and dying of despair.
For many decades, if not centuries, racism (and sexism for white men) artificially buoyed the life prospects of the white working class in American society. With those palliatives and aids removed, the white working class and poor are left exposed and vulnerable to the realities of the American neoliberal nightmare and the culture of cruelty. They are ill-equipped for life in this new world.
Donald Trump knows that a crisis is an opportunity: he is transforming the fear and anxiety of the white American working class into political capital and energy.
To that end, Trump is leveraging what social psychologists have termed “terror management theory.” If “Trumpmania” is a puzzle, then terror management theory is a decoder ring or cipher. In many ways, the logic of terror management explains almost all of Trump’s popularity.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Forget the "Lanes" in Iowa, We Should be Talking About the Republican Party's Highway to Hell

The Iowa caucuses were a bump in the road for Donald Trump’s presidential primary campaign. Trump, a man who is always a “winner,” finished second. Marco Rubio, the so-called establishment Republican candidate, landed in third. Ted Cruz, a theocrat firebrand for the Christian right, emerged as the winner.
Iowa’s Republican voters essentially split their support equally among the three leading candidates.
The political chattering class is largely obsessed with the “horse race” aspect of the Iowa caucuses (which historically have not done a very good of predicting the eventual Republican presidential nominee) and what the results there portend for New Hampshire and beyond. The dominant narrative is that the winnowing process has begun and that Trump, Cruz and Rubio represent three distinct parts of the Republican Party’s electoral coalition. From this perspective, there are various “lanes” to the presidential nomination for the leading Republican candidates.
This is an important type of granular analysis. However, such a focus risks obscuring as much as it reveals about the Republican Party’s policies, specifically, and movement conservatism, more generally.
The Iowa caucuses ended in what is in essence a three-way tie with 4 percentage points separating Cruz (first), Rubio (last) and Trump. While the differences at the margins are important, this outcome indicates a Republican Party that is cannibalizing itself internally, where no clear front-runner had truly emerged, and whose candidates are largely much more alike than they are different.
“What have you done for me lately?” is one of the most basic questions that voters use to evaluate a politician. How voters answer, “What do you plan to do for me in the future?” is at least as important a decision rule.
A focus on the horse-race narrative and an obsessive parsing of the differences between the 2016 Republican presidential primary candidates—and the reasons for their varying levels of success in Iowa—is potentially very dangerous because it risks overlooking the extreme, radical and dangerous right-wing policy proposals that unite the field.
Almost all of the 2016 Republican presidential primary candidates share the following beliefs:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Conversation With Tim Wise About the Color Line, White Privilege, Politics, and Life

Anti-racism activist, author, and scholar Tim Wise is the guest on this week's edition of The Chauncey DeVega Show. Tim Wise is the author of numerous books including his most recent Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America. He is also the subject of a great new documentary called White Like Me.

Tim Wise is a great friend of the podcast and Chauncey's other online work. During this, his second sit down at the virtual bar and salon, Tim Wise does not disappoint.

Tim and Chauncey talk about maintaining balance and mental health even while they spend a great deal of time working on issues related to the color line, discuss Donald Trump and alienated white voters, how to deal with white racial fragility and deflection, and adding new tools to the metaphorical toolbox for talking with folks about questions of justice and human rights.

In this week's episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show, Chauncey also talks about this weekend's Super Bowl, the Iowa caucuses, and how The New York Times' resident conservative "borrowed" his analysis of Trump and professional wrestling. Chauncey is also brought to bliss by a new soda discovery and shares some scary facts about the horrible state of food safety in the United States.

This episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show can be downloaded from Libsyn and also listened to here. Chauncey DeVega's conversation with Tim Wise can also be "watched" on Youtube at this link.

The Chauncey DeVega Show is available on Itunes and at Stitcher as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why Do Cities Like Chicago Spend Millions and Billions Protecting Rogue, Thuggish, Incompetent, Killer Cops?

I am blessed by the company of the very smart and insightful folks who frequent this site. I am working on something longer about the issues discussed below, but I first wanted to ask for your thoughts and insights on the topic.

Several days ago, The Chicago Tribune ran a great piece on the city's corrupt cops, violence, and the money spent to protect the thugs in blue who have the State's permission to kill people of color, the poor, the working class, the mentally ill, and the broadly defined Other without consistent or real negative consequences.

A key passage from the story, "Small group of Chicago police costs city millions in settlements":
Officers Sean Campbell and Steven Sautkus were patrolling their quiet beat on Chicago's Southwest Side in April 2014 when they saw the driver turn without flashing his signal early enough. 
They stopped Jonathan Guzman, then 18, ordered him out of his car and cuffed him while they searched his Chevy Malibu. They were so thorough, Guzman alleged, that they used a drill to dismantle the sound system in the trunk. In the end, the officers found only a marijuana cigarette butt, worth $5. They charged Guzman with misdemeanor drug possession, wrote three traffic citations and impounded his Chevy. 
It wasn't his first encounter with Campbell or Sautkus, Guzman alleges. The two officers and several colleagues in the quiet Garfield Ridge neighborhood where Guzman lives had stopped him numerous times in recent years, he said, for minor traffic infractions or as he hung out in the community of tidy lawns, squat brick cottages and city workers.
The stops occurred so often that Guzman filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging ongoing, racially charged harassment by the officers. The case was settled last year for $35,000.
Although the settlement was small compared with multimillion-dollar sums the city sometimes pays, a Tribune investigation found that it nonetheless represents a pernicious, stubborn problem: that of officers whose alleged misconduct, while perhaps minor, leads to legal settlements that eventually cost city taxpayers greatly. 
The city since 2009 has settled seven lawsuits against Campbell, a 17-year veteran officer. He ties for second among officers named in the most lawsuits settled by the city during those past six years, the Tribune's analysis of available data shows. His partner during the Guzman arrest, Sautkus, was named in four settled cases.
The Chicago Tribune continues:
Of the more than 1,100 cases the city settled since 2009, just 5 percent were for more than $1 million. Many of those involved fatal shootings, wrongful prosecutions and the sort of brutality allegations that have drawn the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which recently launched an investigation into the Chicago Police Department's use of force. 
The bulk were settled for less serious incidents, including officers allegedly injuring arrestees during traffic stops, making false arrests, uttering racial slurs or other alleged misconduct while officers were off-duty. 
Still, those lawsuits cost the city millions of dollars, the Tribune's analysis shows, but underwent little scrutiny. A vast majority, 85 percent, were settled for $100,000 or less, which meant the deals did not require City Council approval. And Chicago officers accused of misconduct are rarely disciplined, data show.
Both are part of a small group of officers — just 124 of the city's police force of roughly 12,000 — who were identified in nearly a third of the misconduct lawsuits settled since 2009, suggesting that officers who engaged in questionable behavior did it over and over. The Tribune's investigation also found that 82 percent of the department's officers were not named in any settlements. Still, the conduct of those 124 officers cost the city $34 million, the Tribune investigation found.
I am a pragmatist and a realist. I also believe, like many others do, that politics is fundamentally about the management of resources and power to the advantage of some groups over others. That having been said, I am still struggling with why America's major cities would spend millions (and billions over time) to protect murderous, rogue, thug cops. Could not the same level of social control be accomplished far more cheaply, and with far less negative attention, than what is done by subsidizing killer cops?

Of course, these monies could be better spent on schools, job programs, healthcare, and other outputs, outputs that collectively do far more to reduce crime than the punishing and punitive state. Please share. What am I missing in my calculus? How do you make sense of this apparent puzzle?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

David Brooks, Donald Trump, Professional Wrestling, and Me

Back in August I wrote a piece about Donald Trump and professional wrestling at Salon. I am not the only person to have made the connection between Trump and the theater and spectacle of the action inside the squared circle. But in the last few weeks, more folks, in even more prominent places, have been "borrowing" from my argument in some pretty direct ways. There are few truly original ideas. However, there are ideas that are more original than others.

Imitation is flattery. Yes. But am I overreacting and this is all just mere coincidence of like minds connecting through the ether?

David Brooks has a new editorial on Donald Trump. His narrative centers itself on professional wrestling. One of his observations:
This is an anxious and angry nation. Many people have lost faith in its leadership. Somewhere in his marketer’s brain Donald Trump intuited that manners are more important than laws and that if you want to assault the established powers you have to assault their manners first. 
By shifting the cultural language Trump initiated a new type of culture war, really a manners war. He seemed fresh, authentic and resonant to a lot of people who felt alienated from the way elites govern, talk and behave. 
Professional wrestling generates intense interest and drama through relentless confrontation. Everybody knows it’s fake at some level, but it is perceived as fake and real at the same time (sort of like politics). What matters is not so much who wins or loses, or whether you are good or evil, but the aggressiveness by which you wage each mano-a-mano confrontation. 
Trump brought this style onstage at the first Republican debate, and a thousand taboos were smashed all at once. He insulted people’s looks. He stereotyped vast groups of people — Mexicans and Muslims. He called members of the establishment morons, idiots and losers. 
Trump was unabashedly masculine, the lingua franca of pro wrestling. Every time he was challenged, he was compelled by his code to double down the confrontation and fire back. 
Social inequality is always felt more acutely than economic inequality. Trump rose up on behalf of people who felt looked down upon, made them feel vindicated and turned social conduct on its head. 
But in Iowa on Monday night we saw the limit of Trump’s appeal. Like any other piece of showbiz theatrics, Trump was more spectacle than substance.
You tell me. Is imitation the highest form of flattery? Or am I overreacting? It is good to know that one's arguments are circulating in the ether. However, it is also nice to receive acknowledgement as one of the wellsprings from with they flow.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Donald Trump in Iowa and Beyond: The Professional Wrestler, The Confidence Man, and The Magician

The political chattering classes are all aflutter today. The Iowa caucus is the first big dance of the presidential campaign season. They have prognosticated, analyzed, theorized, and found new ways to say the same things ten times. Ultimately, the political chattering classes are in it for the horse race. Alas, if an accident occurs at the track and a horse has to be shot then so be it. The whittling down of the field is the whole point of the contest.

The competition between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is one of idealism versus political pragmatism and realism. Both candidates are acceptable. Neither would truly bring ruinous destruction to the United States.

By comparison, the Republican presidential primary candidates are a human zoo. If the 2016 Republican primary season has been a nadir in modern politics, its stars are political brutes and freaks, one ever the worse than the other. They are a hydra that does not cooperate; instead the Republican Party's political monsters attack and bite each other while their public, the propagandized Fox News zombie, lets forth guttural noises that too many foolishly confuse with intelligent speech.

And of course, Donald Trump is sits at the center of the Republican spectacle; he is the master of ceremonies at the monsters ball.

Donald Trump has many faces. He is a political cult leader. Trump's performance also borrows from professional wrestling.

[As I wrote about some months ago, Donald Trump is a professional wrestling "heel", a world champion who has gone into business for himself, refusing to drop the belt to the designated "face" challenger.]

Trump's oeuvre has other inspirations as well.

He is a Mark Twain-like version of the 19th century American "confidence man".

In that role, has given Trump the dubious distinction of being "King of the Whoppers":
It’s been a banner year for political whoppers — and for one teller of tall tales in particular: Donald Trump. 
In the 12 years of’s existence, we’ve never seen his match. 
He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong...But Trump topped them all when he claimed to have seen nonexistent television coverage of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 — and then topped himself by demanding that fact-checkers apologize for exposing his claim as fantasy. And that’s only one example. 
Here we’ve assembled, as we do every year at this time, a generous sampling of the most far-fetched, distorted or downright fallacious claims made during 2015. 
In past years, we’ve not singled out a single claim or a single person, and have left it to readers to judge which whoppers they consider most egregious. 
But this year the evidence is overwhelming and, in our judgment, conclusive. So, for the first time, we confer the title “King of Whoppers.”
Trump is also a professional con artist who greatly exaggerates his success as a businessman (inheriting and losing vast sums of money from one's father is an indicator of luck and entitlement not genius acumen). His lies about "knowing how to win" and his "greatness" are a version of the con artist tricks such as the "pigeon drop", "rain making", or the "fiddle game" for the Right-wing authoritarians who are attracted to such speech and imagery.