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    Dagbooks: Blowing Smoke - Chapter Two - Weep for Your Children

    In Chapter 1 of Blowing Smoke, author Michael Wolraich (Genghis) introduces what he terms “Persecution Politics,” or the way in which the right wing has employed a trinity of unreality-based ideas to instill fear in the populace. 

    Those three things are: 1) the slippery slope; 2) the secret plot; and 3) persecution of you and people like you. 

    In Chapter 2, Wolraich lays out starkly the history of the birth of Persecution Politics. 

    …in a crucible of racism and piety, baked red-hot by the fear of corrupted youth, a movement was born. 

    Wolraich fuses one historical trend to another historical event. First, the trend: there is, and has always been—at least as far back as ancient Greece—the fear that the big, scary government or at least big, scary teachers are trying to indoctrinate children with ideas that are not just antithetical to all their parents hold dear but also irreversibly harmful to the fabric of society.

    Second, the historical event: in 1978 the IRS moved to un-exempt the so-called “segregation academies”—private schools for white students only that had grown up in the south after public school desegregation. Although they started as mirror images of the public school system, many of them subsequently affiliated with Christian denominations. 

    Thus, right-wing leaders, hoping to benefit from the involvement of thousands of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians in the political system, used the slippery slope of government corrupting youth, the secret plot of destroying Christianity, and the persecution of Christians to whip a whole new wing of the conservative party into a frenzy of fear and loathing. 

    Along the way, the term secular humanist morphed into secular progressive and then again into simply progressive, a term basically devoid of meaning. As Wolraich says, “the progressives don’t actually stand for anything except the destruction of all that is good in America.” 

    So, to get the discussion started: 

    1. Are you as impressed as I am with the steady rise of persecution politics over the course of three or four decades, culminating in such a division in the electorate that it is impossible to work in good faith to solve any widespread problems in our country?

    2. How is it that we manage to let the conservatives define us over and over? How many times have O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Beck, and the lot of them cried, “This is what they want, this is what they think…” yada yada yada. How do they know what we want and what we think? I don’t remember being asked.

    3. Why didn’t anybody see this happening and attempt to put a stop to it?

    Please feel free to add your own questions, and especially insights. However, let's not rehash last week's inhospitable discussion (on another thread which I don't care to link to) about what it means to be progressive. Please keep the comments focused on content. 


    Dagbooks: Blowing Smoke is a series of posts in a loose book group format intended to foster discussion.

    Previous posts include an introduction and Chapter 1.



    In a way, I'm not surprised that the persecution angle is so effective.  Let's face it, a lot of the progressive social agenda really does involve telling people how to behave and ultimately how to think.  This isn't a bad thing.  If you want to combat racism you have to make it unacceptable.  You start with rules barring racism in the public sphere, particularly with regards to government services, employment and commerce.  You hope that over time (and because most people are not racists deep down) that people realize that not only are these rules not onerous but that the underlying problem was ridiculous in the first place and that we're way better off without it.  Over time, society even shuns those who continue the old practices.  That's progress.

    But people don't like to be told what to do and how to think.  A lot of people will react by saying "I'm not a racist anyway, so why are you telling me what to do?"  Others will say "I've never been a racist, my family came to this country long after slavery was abolished and I am being victimized by affirmative action."  So there you have two "I'm being persecuted" arguments that are rhetorically compelling.

    Now add the slippery slope part into it.  If they want to tell me how to behave and how to think, then what else do they want to tell me?  If they will interfere in the college admissions process or in the competition for jobs, what else will they interfere with?

    So why do they get to define the debate?  I think it's more accurate to say that any time one of these issues comes up there's a big struggle to define the debate.  One example I can think of is the now pretty much over debate over politically correct language.  This was a debate over what constituted offensive speech.  Well, offensive is pretty subjective, right?  The Pro-P.C. side of the debate basically argued that the aggrieved group got to define what was offensive and in what context.  The anti-P.C. side, which was basically the conservative side, argued the opposite, that only the user of the language, the one with intention, could make that determination.  Ironically, as the argument wears on, the conservative side becomes the victim.  "You're accusing me of racism, sexism, homophobia," they say.  "You are making a damaging accusation against my character."  Why is it a damning accusation?  Because we are now, because of progressive policies and ideas, a society that shuns racists, sexists and homophobes.  There are actual negative consequences, including negative financial consequences, for being seen that way.  Well, it seems the pro-P.C. side was right.  The victim does have greater leeway to decide what's offensive.  But what if you fervently believe, as many on the right do, that you were falsely accused of racism.  You're a victim too and you inherit the victim's power to frame the conversation.  "Don't you dare call me a racist, I'm friends with Juan Williams!"

    As for question 3, why didn't we see this coming and head it off at the pass?  Can't be done.  The same forces that we have marshalled to achieve substantial social progress are the same forces our opponents marshall to oppose us.  We stand up for victims and underdogs.  So do they.  But first they cast themselves in those roles.

    "...you inherit the victim's power to frame the conversation". Excellent phrase. It encapsulates the underlying "game" of the victim.

    I find myself wondering when, why and how did we become a society in which now everyone competes politically to define, and be, the deserving victim?  It's as though whatever else the right and left disagree about they seem to agree that getting yourself defined as the victim, the percecuted "side", is the way to go.  (Tom Engelhardt wrote a book called The End of Victory Culture, about changes in US culture from the post World War II period up to the present.  I've not read it but others here may have.  He may make some points that are pertinent here.)

    Why is that?  Which of these factors has contributed to this most?  Are there others even more important?

    *the Right witnessed the stunning successes of the civil rights movement, which were based on winning the sympathy fight in the public eye, and concluded that was the way to go 

    *changes in the economy (coinciding roughly with the period of the modern-day ascendency of the organized Right).  Even those not already negatively effected are anxious about whether they are next, and soon, and how they are going to survive that. 

    *events on the ground created a climate of negativity, with few successes to balance these out.  One could cite the multi-pronged disaster of Vietnam, the aftermath of the '60s race riots, the Kent State shootings, Nixon's stoking of the fires of zero-sum resentment, and Watergate and the cynicism that led to it and resulted from it. 

    *for those who believe there is no substitute for a common, compelling adversary when it comes to such glue as can hold a society like ours together, the end of the Cold War 

    So one doesn't even have to have a view of human nature as inherently very jealous and resentful to identify stuff that's gone on over the last 40 years that may help account for where we are now.

    Maybe a mistake is to view the 25 years after World War II, which is still a frame of reference for many alive today, as the norm, instead of an aberration.  Wasn't it inevitable that the US would fare well compared to a lot of other countries that had been destroyed in the War or were industrializing at a slower pace than we were?  Isn't it inevitable that in a world where communication and transporation barriers are falling away, where knowledge is more accessible/harder to monopolize for profit, and just about all countries are working their asses off to improve their educational systems, what was once overwhelming US dominance was going to fall by the wayside?  Even if we weren't also doing so much to hasten that process along? 

    Great post.  But I can't help but feel you're picking on me.  Bully!

    Thanks, destor.  Hardly meant to single you out--what seems different these past 20-30 years is that now the Right wants to be the most compelling and deserving victim!  They have Victim Envy.  I think our side had always been grounded more in grievance.  Our narrative used to usually be some variant on "Look, you guys are successful or at least can make it, you get respect--we want that stuff, too!"   I don't know--is there enough victimhood to go around in this society?  If there is a Victimhood Surplus can we apply that to help reduce the  deficit, without contracting the economy?  :<)    

    I was kiddin' ya! :)  But yes, they do have victim envy.  And then they call us wimps at the same time.  It's pretty comical.

    "Victim envy" is gold. I wish that I had used that in the book.

    Or--don't want to beat the point into the ground too much--one might say the Right (also the GOP) identified some time ago a dangerous Victim Gap.  They have worked assiduously and with much success to close it.  In fact, some might say they now enjoy supremacy in this regard.

    In business, I deal with contractors and their subs who play the deserving victim every day. "I have these parts, nothing fits. Please advise." It's a passive-aggressive way of claiming that someone else is at fault. And since accepting responsibility will cost them money, they all do it.

    In the political theatre, accepting responsibility seems to be a last resort.

    Genghis's second chapter is an invaluable framework for understanding the rise of the "religious right". I think the chapter is unique in its disection of the impetus of desegregation translated to corruption of youth and culture in general, imported to christian evangelicals, and used to underpin persecution politics.  

    One of the questions I have is to what extent the evangelical movement was simply part of the cyclical pattern of christian fundamentalism in our nation's history and to what extent it was fomented by a political party--which might be a first.

    If my memory serves me right there was a christian fundamentalist wave in the 1830's and 1840's, and that time it was in reaction to the rise of Unitarians.

    I view the christian fundamentalist, maybe it's the same thing as Puritanism, strain in American culture as a kind of virus, more or less in remission at any given time. We are in a particular virulent epidemic at the moment. The trendline of this group is conflagration in the Middle East. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the virus rule of not killing off all hosts so in my opinion a remission phase is coming.

    I use small caps in "christian" to make a point. I once heard a great sermon making the distinction between the religion of Christ vs. the religion about Christ. Because I can make no sense of the bigotry, racism, hatred, love of guns, small minded, anti-intellectual, self serving, ego centered, closed minded ness qualities of this current crop of fundamentalists in relation to what Christ actually taught, I consider their promulgations to be about Christ--a psychological projection of base ideals onto Christ--and not to be of Christ. The Republican Party has contributed mightily to fundamentalists' laundry list of projections and used the fundamentalists to win elections. You wonder when rank and file fundamentalists will discover how little they have received in return. 

    In the context of Fox, Beck et. al., it's amazing to me that fundamentalists don't make the connection between the clap trap on the "News" channel and the rest of Fox's programming--most of which I find offensive from my family values point of view. I wonder why most christian fundamentalists don't find this programming antithetical to the values they are attempting to instill in their own children       


    I wonder if there is any data available to us on the portion of the Fox viewership that classifies itself as "fundamentalist"?  From what I observe "fundamentalist" and "evangelical" are sometimes conflated in discussions about politics.  It looked to me as though you were using the two terms interchangeably in your comment.  Amy Sullivan wrote a 2008 book The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap, which I thought helped to illustrate the differences.  Fundamentalists are a harder get for today's Democratic party; evangelicals less so.  Sullivan's book documents efforts to push back on the assumption that evangelicals are surefire GOP voters, or at least not gettable Dem voters, and should therefore be written off, as well as the political costs of accepting that assumption.

    I am oversimplifying and scholars of religion give different answers on this.  But the short version of the distinction as I understand it is that evangelicals have a commitment, not always interpreted as involving proselytizing those who do not want to be proselytized, to spreading what they see as God's Truth (not necessarily incorporating or limited to a literal interpretation of what is in a foundational text such as the Bible, though).  Whereas the commitment of fundamentalists is to the overriding and universal validity of a literal interpretation of a foundational text such as the Bible or Koran.  Obviously these can be and sometimes are closely interrelated.  But not necessarily or always so. 

    Martin Luther King, Jr. was an evangelical Christian.  I'm not aware of too many liberals getting much traction with complaints about his particular uses of religious imagery and language.  He was not a fundamentalist in any publicly important way.  The fundamentalist mindset is all about arguing the correct meaning of a particular text, with the conclusion dictating correct vs. incorrect individual behavior.  I know very few liberals (I did meet one, once, a school classmate who I ended up befriending; it was strange), whether themselves religiously devout or not, who appear in any way comfortable with that mode of interaction with others, or who find that a potentially fruitful activity.  

    My answer to the "so what?" question re this comment: when writing or speaking, I'm not keen on losing potential votes from some self-described evangelicals who are not self-described fundamentalists by treating the two as though they are interchangeable and casting an indiscriminate negative brush against both.  Significant numbers of evangelicals agree more with liberals than conservatives on many issues, such as combating US and global poverty and dealing with global warming and other environmental issues.

    To bring that back to what Genghis' book is about, overbroad dissing of evangelicals lumped together in the same breath as fundamentalists may in years past (less so in the 2008 presidential cycle, partly because Dems have gotten smarter on this) have alienated some of the former and chased them away from the Democratic party.  I'm not an evangelical (an evangelical Jew? Come again?) but if I were, listening to some of the things said about them by a few politically active Democrats I've known would leave me feeling pretty alienated.  Even if these things are not said publicly so often, word gets around.  People know when they're considered unwelcome, if not freakish or scary. 

    And in case they don't, or sometimes forget, there is the Right Wing Victimization Machine to make sure every last one of them knows, just knows, for a fact that every last Democrat and liberal in the country thoroughly despises them and will eat their babies if they win the next election.    

    Good points, I'm guilty of some conflation there, poor form, plus got way off the subject. Not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. Fundamentalists seem to me to be the core of the "religious right". I think the wave in its broadest form might be termed "Evangelical", with "Fundamental" subsumed in it. As to whether Evangelicals might have been chased away by cant like mine, I dunno. I am so repulsed by the religious right I am apt to paint with a broad brush when I think about them. Where I was headed originally was a question of how much political fomenting itself was a cause of the rise of fundamentalism with a view toward when and how this wave might end.  

    I think your take on the differences is right and there are certainly progressive evangelicals, progressive Catholics, prgressives Jews and progressive Muslims we should be courting.  Heck, I'll take progressive Scientologists and, well, progressive anyones.  Whatever it takes for you to believe that we can and should have a more just and fair society.

    At the same time, I think the party is most inclusive when it's secular at its core.  That core religious neutrality allows likeminded people with different faiths (or no faith) to interact by setting those questions aside.  So long as everyone behaves and nobody tries to force anyone into any beliefs, we can all play nice.  So obviously this means that fundamentalists (who, by the way, we happily call "extremists if they are fundamental believers in something outside the Judeo-Christian tradition) can't play to the extent that they can't control themselves.

    I also wonder about what this could mean for our outreach to other interest groups.  As you say, there are evangelical Christians out there who take our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment quite seriously.  There are also gun owning hunters who feel that way for the same reason.  And labor unions, provided you make the case for job preservation as you go.  For a brief moment, the Tea Partiers seemed like allies in the fight to regulate Wall Street but the other side got to them first (and our side's history of financial deregulation didn't exactly give us a moral high ground to begin with).

    I'm straying off topic  but this does lead us into a larger discussion about how to reach out to people. 

    By all means, stray!!

    So obviously this means that fundamentalists (who, by the way, we happily call "extremists if they are fundamental believers in something outside the Judeo-Christian tradition)…

    I think we do a disservice to true fundamentalists (e.g., Ashkenazi Jews) when we conflate them with militants (which is what I think is usually meant by the label "extremist"). If we think about what the word fundamental means, I think Hutterites are some of the best examples of "fundamentalist Christians". I can't say I personally know any Hutterites, but I've always admired their commitment to their faith, even if I don't share it. (By the way, I'm not singling you out for that destor. You're using the word "fundamentalist" in the way it seems to be most frequently used today. Modern linguists would suggest, I suppose, that this means the meaning of the word is not what I think it is.)

    Excellent point.  I think the word means what you think it means.  I guess we have to look at where fundamentalist and extremist and radical have been conflated and where they haven't.

    The three words are often swapped around when discussing Muslims.  I think, as you suggest, that's sloppy use of language and ultimately sloppy thinking.  We tend to see more care used when talking about American Christians, even those outside the mainstream.  I object to that.  In my view, James Dobson is as much a "radical cleric" as any one!

    But if fundamental means adhering to the strict foundations of belief then it probably shouldn't be equated with extremist or radical distortions of that belief, right?

    Well, one could say that giving all of your possessions to the poor and having everything in common is both extreme and radical, but no, I would say your point is valid.

    Along those lines is the blurring of the word militant. For example, how many so-called "militant feminists" are actually packing heat?

    At the same time, I think the party is most inclusive when it's secular at its core. 

    Or, using some religious imagery and language from a specific faith tradition, as King did, works for me if it is positive, healing, has broad appeal, better yet is inspiring.  I'll take King's religious references over some denuded, remote, abstract dreck any day when it comes to inspiring people to act. 

    Another alternative is using religious imagery and language from several faith traditions which share values but just express them in slightly different ways.  This also communicates inclusiveness even if it isn't possible or wise to reference the faith traditions of everyone in an audience. 

    The basic principle is use religious language and imagery to include people, not exclude them, and connect with them where they live and where their hearts are located, so to speak.  I think that is a winning strategy in a society, and a world, where overwhelming percentages of people have a favorable view of religion (perhaps not true in Europe but the Europeans won't have a problem if US politicians and public spokespersons are using religious language and images occasionally and inclusively instead of the way they see it is usually used today.)  Of course it won't work where it is and looks phony and insincere coming from the person it is coming from.

    Evangelical Christians are 26.3% of the U.S. population


    If you go to http://religions.pewforum.org/comparisons#

    and select the "Social and Political Views" section

    You can get their "Party Affiliation"

    38% Republican,

    12% lean Republican,

    9% lean Democratic,

    24% Democratic

    7% No Preference/Don't Know/Refused

    their self-described "Political Ideology" is

    52% Conservative

    30% Moderate

    11% Liberal

    7% Don't Know

    And on the same page you can get their views, along with the views of all other major U.S. religious groups, on the following

    Size of Government. Abortion Homosexuality, Government's Role in Protecting Morality,
    Environmental Protection, Country's Role in World Affairs

    which includes that 48% of Evangelicals want smaller government, fewer services, and 41% want bigger government, more services, and that 50% think that government should do more to protect morality while 41% think that government is too involved in morality.

    Home page

    Welcome to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

    Based on interviews with more than 35,000 American adults, (May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007), this extensive survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details the religious makeup, religious beliefs and practices as well as social and political attitudes of the American public. This online section includes dynamic tools that complement the full report.


    Thks.  Robert Putnam's latest, American Grace, looks fascinating and has lots of data.  Haven't gotten to it yet but I was struck by one of the bulleted points on the jacket blurb which notes, among other the book's other surprising findings, that Jews are the most popular religious group in the United States.

    Go figure.   I haven't dug in to find out what that means in the context of question wording, etc., but I have to say I found that not just surprising, but astonishing.  It must be because of all that the Israelis have been doing to give us a good name Surprised  (did I just say that?  OMG I guess I did.)  

    You can find some fun things rooting around that poll. Like with the "Don't Know" column on Political Ideology, two groups stand out as having a compartively huge number--50% of Jehovah's Witnesses and 19% of Muslims don't know if they are liberal, moderate or conservative. Jews and Mormons are the ones who most know what label they want--only 3 % each don't know.


    Also, Mormons are way way more anti-abortion than Catholics.

    Did you happen to spot a table that shows, for both self-described atheists and agnostics (or some indicator that tries to identify extent of religiosity), percentages also self-identifying as a) Democrats? b) Liberals?  Am curious whether that stereotype is borne out by the data.

    The political ideology is a single poll chart for everyone, it's here


    hit "Social and Political Views" and then scroll down to political ideologly.

    They didn't offer atheist or agnostic category.  All the tables have only "Other Faiths" category and  used the category "Unffiliated" instead of "Agnostic. " (The latter was huge, 5,000+. )

    Keep in mind the overall study was "Religious traditions," with political being only a small part-- the cultural/tribal implications of religions. I know some proudly bear atheism as a cultural tribe but apparently Pew does not.

    Some people (like destor, I suspect) don't believe we exist. There's a word for that, I think.

    Some may even say that the atheists are "not verified"  Wink

    How. dare. you.

    In all seriousness, along the veins of people not thinking we exist, I've been going through some required training for adoption classes (my wife and I are considering adopting a "special needs" child), and it seems that the adoption agency considers "faith" to be an important aspect of the parenting process. It's not meant to be malicious, and they're inclusive about faiths: Muslim, Jewish, Christian. I assume they have no problem with Hindus or Buddhists, either. My wife and I are not sure that they'd have no problem with us, however. Especially considering the number of questions on the interview form about dealing with faith. This could be just paranoia on our parts, as I do understand why there are important religious considerations here, considering that these are foster-to-adoption cases where the presumed goal is to return the child to the birth parents. Still, it gives us pause.

    Interesting.  In thinking about this, I think one problem atheists face is that the belief system, at least from the pov of those from other believe systems, is defined by what it doesn't believe in as opposed to what it does believe in.  In the mainstream media, when atheism is talked about is usually talked about in term of not believing in a god or the supernatural (and attempting to refute those beliefs that do). So for many it seen as an anti-belief system, an act of negation which consquently is not a basis upon which to build a belief system.

    And I think one problem for agnostics is that they all too often get lumped in with atheists, or "other", and get considered by some as "non-spiritual", which is far from accurate.


    And, of course, there's a whole bunch of other semantic questions: what exactly is an agnostic? what is an atheist?

    I prefer to put those on orthogonal axes. Here are my definitions: A weak agnostic is someone who doesn't know whether or not there's a god or gods. A strong agnostic is someone who thinks it is unknowable whether or not there is a god or gods. A weak atheist is someone who doesn't believe in gods (negative belief - or the lack of belief). A strong atheist is someone who believes there are no gods (positive belief in the lack of deities).

    I consider myself both a strong agnostic and a strong atheist. Although some atheists claim to be weak atheists (although they don't use that term), presumably because it precludes them from having to justify any belief, I don't think any such people exist, beyond early childhood at least. Some atheists are not agnostic at all. They think there can be no doubt whatsoever. I think most atheists at least acknowledge that, in theory, there's room for doubt. I think the chances of a deity existing are about the same as the chances that I'm actually living in a simulation, à la The Matrix. I can't rule either possibility out (seriously), but I also live my life on the very strong assumption that the world is as I perceive. I could go on, but I'll spare y'all. (FWIW, prior to my "conversion" to atheism I did have religious experiences, so I also reject the idea that religions are completely evidence free and that atheism does not require any faith whatsoever. OK, I'll stop now.)

    Wow, that looked a lot better before I posted it. :P

    I'm one of you!

    Well, maybe I don't believe you exist then!

    P.S. I would like to point out the following in the above:

    9% lean Democratic, 24% Democratic equals 33%

    but only 11% Liberal.

    Which I believe brings us back to


    who tend to be more moderate or conservative than the rest of their party on certain select issues (which I believe in most cases they have also polled their constituencies on, whereby they don't just fly by the seat of their paints/skirts when they decide to take a stance for continuing to leave Gitmo open or leave DADT in place or whatever.)

    Wow, Artsy, Absolutely fascinating. The comparison section is an eye opener. Also check out the "MAP" option and select "Evangelical".

    Off topic, but A-Man, if you cruise by here, I'd really be interested in how you relate, or not, this map to the comments you made on individual states D vs. R.. States with more than 50% identifying as Evangelicals--OK, MO. AR. Upper Midwest, not so much.



    The integration of the schools was experienced by many who resisted the change as an expulsion from the Social Contract. The way I heard it expressed at the time was that secular institutions had abandoned them, not the other way around. The loss of power that occurred was not just about losing privileges and the right to replicate a form of life, it was a moral indictment of their character as people. The sense of being persecuted preserves and replicates the feeling of the initial insult. Remembering the insult makes things personal that might otherwise be seen as the result of a changing world. The ensuing arguments about intentions tend to hide the common practice of both "seclurists" and "non-seclurists" to diagnose what is missing in the other. The nation is more divided by forms of psychological perception than it is by disagreements over policy (and the latter are significant). It is like that short story by Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but with Zombies instead of Love.

    Viewing the matter through a psychological frame permits looking at the differences without immediately dealing with the claims of who has the ethical highground. Another advantage of the frame is that talking about hysteria in a psychological context is not a zero sum game. Or maybe I should say it doesn't have to be one. In other words, references to right wing and left wing hysteria are often made with the suggestion that they both express the same underlying structure. These references are more about laying down assumptions than they are the products of analyses.

    Without further preamble, let me quote from that famous British psychologist, Margaret Thatcher:

    There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families.

    A provocative statement, to be sure. It is not actually denying the existential status of social institutions, it is saying that they do not have a life of their own. In this context, the personal is not an enclosure that is surrounded by objective relations, the objective order is surrounded by personal relations. As an empirical horizon, the statement establishes its own ground for the secular that undercuts the language of the "liberals" object world.

    Goldwater was articulating this idea when he talked about the State "living your life for you". For him the matter was not only about restraining the power of central authority but a condition of the individual. Reagan expanded on the idea of bad intentions by saying that Liberals didn't understand that they had them. They were well meaning in their idealism but were actually agents of degeneration.

    This suggests to me that the real message behind the "They Want to Kill Christmas" shtick is not about getting people to believe a sudden increase in hatred has occurred but that a chronic disease has made further progress. Have a lovely day.

    "The loss of power that occurred was not just about losing privileges and the right to replicate a form of life, it was a moral indictment of their character as people."

    I think you're spot on about this.  You can't change society without telling some people that they're wrong either in their beliefs or behaviors and they're likely going to bristle when you do.

    I agree. Here's a quote from George Wallace's biographer that I use later in the book:

    Day after day, white Southerners looked at the television and what did they see? They saw a kind of morality play in which there were the heroic, the civil rights activists, and these horrific bestial, violent white Southerners. And now you have George Wallace, standing up, standing up for America, he says, but really standing up for white Southerners.

    This may be resolutely off thread  but Thatcher went a very long way towards converting the NHS from a loved institution to short hand for something that doesn't work.

    Presumably if,  pace Maggie,  there's  actually such a thing as society , its strength is affected by the existence of institutions. If conversely your goal is a society that isn't  , actually ,well ,a society , than you're right  on target by weakening any institution that works.

    Self fulfilling prophecy  sort of describes that.

    At least Maggie didn't say

     when I hear the word society I reach for my gun. 

    Genghis, I strayed off in my comments above but I wanted you to know how perceptive and original I thought Chapter 2 was--very important and foundational. I don't know of anyone else who has connected these dots the way you have done. 

    Thanks Oxy. I appreciate it.

    I agree with Oxy! (By the way, where does they name come from, if I may ask?) 

    G, I am guilty of buying in to the standard media story about the rise of the religious right coming from opposition to abortion rights and gay rights, as well as the rest of the standard conservative social issues menu, including flag burning and abstinence. I was looking at it from my own "why don't they understand how wrong and backwards they are" perspective and not even considering that the history of the movement might be longer than the history of my own adulthood or political awareness. 

    I think what you've done with your book is not only brilliant and funny, but truly important to understanding how we got where we are today. I'm not sure yet how I feel about your road map for the future, but I am sure that we'll hear more on that from the Dag readers as we move along through the chapters. 

    I was thinking about responding to some of the comments in this thread, but they are all so intelligent and insightful that I really have nothing of substance to add!

    Thanks. About the time I registered at Dag I was working on a poem and had discovered, to my delight, the plural of oxymoron. And I was in a frisky mood.

    In some ways to answer in part the three questions (along with much of what has been said here already), I would go back 6 decades to find significant roots to the persecution politics (of course, as pointed out we can trace everything back as far as we want to go, even to ancient Greece).  The 1950s saw the beginning of the rise of mass media along with a youth culture which, youth being youth, was attracted to things in music and the arts their parents weren't necessarily approving of.  Elvis' hips were a threat to the social moral fabric of the society.  In 1957, San Francisco authorities put a bookseller on trial for trying to sell Howl which supposively was illegal because it was obscene and had no redeeming social value.

    The difference then was these liberal threats to the status quo were by and large outsiders to the establishment.  Moreover, they weren't overtly political.  Yet over time as we moved into the sixities, music and the arts both popular and avant-garde became more and more anti-establishment, whether political or social.  In the process, rightly and wrongly, these expressions were associated with the liberal political agenda.  At the very least, it was a mainstay of the liberal view that not only freedom of expression that shook up the prevalent view of things in and of itself a good thing, it should be actively encouraged. To embrace the idea that times are indeed changing is by its nature confrontational to those who don't want things to change.  Unfortunately, in the minds of many conservatives, there was little difference between Dylan singing protest songs and Alice Cooper singing about going to hell.

    And slowly and surely as the sixities ended, these folks who would have everyone reading poems like Howl and were talking about a revolution of one sort of another (from Mao to women's liberation) began to move into positions in the establishment.  Moreover, they were very prevalent in the entertainment industry as well as the publishing industry.  It wasn't that hard of a sell to convince people of the liberal mainstream media conspiracy when in those people's mind the same folks responsible for the sex, drugs, violence and general debauchery in the movies and tv were also reporting on the news.  Nor it was hard to convince them these youth under the sway of the dark forces in the fifties and sixites were now the professors at the universities, who in turn were now trying to corrupt their children to the dark side. 

    One of the significant threads in this is that the liberal side had spent a number of decades pushing its own brand of persecution politics (gotta fight the Man because the Man is out to get ya).  In many cases there was a legitimate concern for the persecution politics on the left (the civil rights movement in the fifties and going forward). But sometimes it was just shallow non-ideological anti-establishment for anti-establishment's sake.  Tradition became dirty word and many in the arts were seemingly out to shock for the sake of shocking the status quo (a tradition itself in the arts that goes way back in modern times) with nothing much else to say.  Making the case for the war on Christmas is made easier when there is someone out there doing art pieces like Piss Christ.  And rightly or wrongly, because of this long history of the arts in the country as it has been beamed into the living rooms of the conservatives whether they like or it not, what they perceive as the intentions behind work such Piss Christ or the music of Marilyn Manson (etc etc) lurk behind the intentions of anyone who claims to be a political liberal, regardless of whether their favorite music is Yo Ma Ma or their favorite paintings are from the 19th century Hudson River School movement.

    Since those on the left in the arts when it is being serious don't see going after the establishment as persecution (but the oppressed rising up against the oppressor), they don't see themselves as doing anything wrong in perpetuating the confrontational dynamic.  And while I don't think this is a right or wrong issue, the issue is that divisions that we see politically are pertuated by those who may or may not profess any political agenda.  At the same time, because of the association already in people's minds that these artists are part of the liberal horde, and because they have more channels of communication to the public at large than many others, they tend to drive much of the definition of what liberal is or isn't, regardless of what others like Rush do or say about liberals. 

    Which is all a way of saying that you may fight for the right of Marilyn Manson to express himself however he feels compelled to (which I would), but one also understand as he does he is defining liberals in the minds of many, as well as perpetuating the confrontation that divides us.  For better or for worse.

    AT, I think that your discussion of 1960s liberal radicalization is apt and important. It did not, however, mark the first episode of progressive radicalization. There were plenty of socialists and anarchists among the early 20th century progressives, and others like Emma Goldman who challenged cultural norms. There was a backlash against both, but one difference between the earlier progressive movement and the 1960s counter-culture movement is that the former were much more populist. They saw themselves as champions of the working class and developed a large following throughout the country, especially in the midwest. By contrast, 1960s radicals championed the youth, but that's no really a class issue. More significantly, they championed oppressed racial classes, particularly blacks. They developed a following primarily in urban areas and among minorities. And that is what contributed to growth of what I call right-wing persecution politics.

    Which brings me to an important distinction. People often used "oppressed" and "persecuted" interchangeably, and I'm certainly guilty of it, but the words have different connotations. An entire nation can be oppressed, but persecution usually refers to a conflict between two subgroups distinguished by race, religion, gender, or other distinctions. Claiming that "the Man is out to get ya" is not persecution politics if "the Man" is the government and the "ya" is generalized. Similarly, Tea Partiers complaining that the government oppresses American citizens is not persecution politics either. Persecution politics is claiming that the white man discriminates against the black man or that secular humanists discriminate against Christians.

    And that brings me to yet another important distinction. Whites really have persecuted blacks. But Christians have not been persecuted by the mythological "secular humanists" or any other non-Christian demographic. Right-wing persecution politics is dangerous precisely because it is a lie that is being used to rationalize intolerance.

    I agree basically with what you have said.  When I talked about the persecution by the "the Man" through popular culture expressions, I was thinking in part of the subgroups.  There are plenty examples, but for whatever reason the movie Billy Jack comes to mind.  We can see it today in contemporary rap music where the Man, personified by the police, is seen as the persecutor.  And how many times I have heard some conservative bring up the lyrics of rap songs to justify their persecution politics and general agenda. 

    My main point about the sixities wasn't that it was the first time for progressive radicalization, but rather that this progressive radicalization occurred at time of an expanding mass media.  In large part because of the Vietnam War seemed to politicize everything, the expressions in popular culture were fast and furious in a way that defined what being liberal was, whether it should have or not.  The impressions left behind by these expressions built up over time and played a role in the defining of what many conservatives understood liberalism to be.  So while the progressive radicals were working on implementing their political agenda, what many conservatives saw as the liberal agenda had more to do with their impressions of a Grateful Dead concert. And because they saw everything as threating from Elvis' hips to ganstarap, and all this was meshed into those on the other side, the liberals, they were more easily led down the path to believe that the "secular humanists" or whatever one called them that day were out to get them and tear down their values and culture. 

    It's a good point. The "culture" in Culture War has become fairly meaningless these days. It once represented fierce battles over art, film, music, etc. Here's one of my favorite anti-secular-humanist bits from Blowing Smoke:

    Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry, whose political opinions were important because of his coaching record, warned the audience of a massive prayer rally that secular humanism was "sweeping America." As an example of its influence, he cited the film On Golden Pond, explaining, "The language was as bad as I've ever seen in a movie." (According to the New York Times, On Golden Pond, rated PG, "includes some slightly vulgar words in its dialogue.")

    re: backlash against early 20th-century socialists and anarchists

    I would say decades before the early-20th century--since their banner year of 1848--socialists and anarchists are often dangerous, if romantic, characters in late 19th-century novels and plays.

    By 1892 and for many years thereafter, everyone coming into Ellis Island was asked "whether an anarchist?" (as well as "whether a polygamist?")--you can see the question on the ship logs on the Elllis Island website when you research your ancestors, and their answer. Like today, when we are asked at the airport if anyone else helped pack our bags, everyone, even the illiterate, knew to say no.

    I have read from many issues of The Masses magazine published from 1911-1917. From that, I would say that by that time there were a lot of persecution issues, where all socialists and communists felt tarred as potential anarchist terrorists, and a majority of persecution was seen as by the Feds. They spent a lot of time and energy trying to counter their image in the populace. The editors went out of their way to cover Federal cases against their own kind and slanted the stories heavily to make them all seem to be entrapment or just plain made up out of thin air (some were definitely that, as though some might not believe it, our law enforcement was  quite a bit looser about ethics in those days.) Odd, or maybe not, that "the Feds,"  the awesome state is/are often a main enemy of the "persecuted," whether left or right activist.

    P.S. Early 20th-century law enforcement against these groups wea not just free speech issues i.e., Margaret Sanger or John Reed, there were also more than a few actual bomb plot cases like are going on now with supposed Al Qaeda. Communists and socialists had a similar problem to Muslims today in being suspected as sympathetic to such actors, you wouldn't want their club in your neighboorhood unless you were the free-lvoing bohemian Greenwich Village:

    Here's a few pages on NYC's anti-radical bomb squad in 1914 and a bombing in St. Pat's Cathedral:

    which I recall was covered heavily by The Masses as a complete entrapment job, as the author there recounts. And of course, the 1927 Sacco Vanzetti case became a famous cri de coeur for all leftists who felt persecuted. But whether or not guility as charged, they were Galleanists and like wikipedia says For three years, perhaps 60 Galleanists waged an intermittent campaign of violence against US politicians, judges, and other federal and local officials, especially those who had supported deportation of alien radicals.

    Thanks, AA. I would add that the persecution of socialists and anarchists was also connected to anti-immigrant xenophobia, as demonstrated by the Sacco-Vanzetti case. In the little discussed First Red Scare, an actual anarchist bomb plot sparked a national wave of anti-labor xenophobic hysteria.

    But again, this was a case of real persecution against a minority. What's distinctive about today's right-wing persecution politics is that the dominant majority imagines that it's being persecuted. It's more akin to Serbian nationalism, in which members of the dominant Serb population convinced themselves that they were being persecuted by "Turks."

    The distinction you make between "generalized" oppression and the specific persecution of a particular group helps me think through more clearly what I was fumbling with in my first comment. I haven't gotten your book yet (I will try to snag it this weekend) but it seems you are describing how the actual removal of privileges held by a specific group morphed over time into a belief that they are still being singled out for punishment; now for being Christians. The idea of transformation over time makes me want to make a distinction between what happens to a group of people and the development of codes that compete in a public space beyond a group. Your example of how Wallace was using the expression "American People" is a perfect example of how political expression works simultaneously in different realms of meaning. This dynamic explains why there is so much debate over whether the Tea Party really is talking about something that oppresses "us" or is code for something else.

    Another Trope's description of how Liberals came to be perceived by a constellation of associations as much as by the articulation of ideas is important because it focuses on the alienation many conservatives experienced. His mention of how that played out in academia is worth expanding upon (especially since you focus on the changes in colleges over time). The output of the last fifty years of conservative writers has been done in the language of protest against received Liberal ideas. The line here between what is general oppression and a particular intention to maginalize a group gets all mixed up in the arguments they had with each other. Outside that conversation, there was a much larger group who were generally put off by how they were pegged intellectually and socially by a majority consensus that they didn't share. I submit that the combination of these two elements played a signicant part of who came to self identify as conservative in the last four decades.

    The question I ask, Genghis, is whether you see the group who see themselves as being specifically targeted by a powerful cabal is part of a continuum of a larger conservative movement or something else?

    I thought the historical background about the seg academies was especially brilliant and useful.

    Same here, Doc.  I think Genghis was brilliant in putting that out there first, in his second chapter, because as I've been reading further into the book, the thesis he started there is a building block that he (thankfully) goes back to again and again later on. 

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that a) I am up to Chapter 7 and should sort of slow down in order to catch up with Orlando's weekly posts while the chapters are still fresh in my mind, and b) I love how Genghis touches upon his "reminders" for the reader throughout the book, bringing up points he made in this second chapter later on, and tying them together with his new thoughts and theories that he brings up in addition, later on.  It's very well done, it's NOT repetitious, it's just a gradual and subtle reminder of the big theme.  And it keeps me wanting to read more.



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