Noam Chomsky: Savage capitalist lunatics are running the asylum

Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian: When Lunatics Run the Asylum

I’m proud to have lived through the last 20-odd years at TomDispatch with Noam Chomsky, now a remarkable 94. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, I stumbled into creating this site and, in October 2003, first posted a piece of his about how the U.S. had for so long terrorized Cuba. It was taken from a book of his that had just been published. By 2007, he was writing directly for TomDispatch on the way the U.S. had brought a campaign of terror to Iran. (“What If Iran Had Invaded Mexico?“) In February 2008, for another article of his, “The Most Wanted List,” in which he put the very idea of terrorism into perspective, I began my introduction this way: “One of Noam Chomsky’s latest books — a conversation with David Barsamian — is entitled What We Say Goes. It catches a powerful theme of Chomsky’s: that we have long been living on a one-way planet and that the language we regularly wield to describe the realities of our world is tailored to Washington’s interests.”

And here I am, 15 years later, posting his latest piece for TomDispatch, an interview that — yes! — David Barsamian of Alternative Radio has just conducted with him on the true terrors of this planet in 2023, starting (but hardly ending) with climate change. And, by the way, the two of them continue to produce books together, the latest being Notes on Resistance. As far as I’m concerned, he’s never been more on target and, believe me, that’s truly saying something! So, let me turn you over to Noam and David and a world that’s deeply in need of something better. Tom

Savage Capitalism: From Climate Change to Bank Failures to War

[The following is excerpted from David Barsamian’s recent interview with Noam Chomsky at]

David Barsamian: On March 20th, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report. The new IPCC assessment from senior scientists warned that there’s little time to lose in tackling the climate crisis. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The rate of temperature rise in the last half-century is the highest in 2,000 years. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest in at least 2 million years. The climate time bomb is ticking.” At COP 27 he said, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator. It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century.” My question to you is: You’d think survival would be a galvanizing issue, but why isn’t there a greater sense of urgency in addressing it in a substantial way?

Noam Chomsky: It was a very strong statement by Guterres. I think it could be stronger still. It’s not just the defining issue of this century, but of human history. We are now, as he says, at a point where we’ll decide whether the human experiment on Earth will continue in any recognizable form. The report was stark and clear. We’re reaching a point where irreversible processes will be set into motion. It doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to die tomorrow, but we’ll pass tipping points where nothing more can be done, where it’s just decline to disaster.

So yes, it’s a question of the survival of any form of organized human society. Already there are many signs of extreme danger and threat, so far almost entirely in countries that have had the smallest role in producing the disaster. It’s often said, and correctly, that the rich countries have created the disaster and the poor countries are its victims, but it’s actually a little more nuanced than that. It’s the rich in the rich countries who have created the disaster and everyone else, including the poor in the rich countries, face the problems.

So, what’s happening? Well, take the United States and its two political parties. One party is 100% denialist. Climate change is not happening or, if it’s happening, it’s none of our business. The Inflation Reduction Act was basically a climate act that Biden managed to get through, though Congress sharply whittled it down. Not a single Republican voted for it. Not one. No Republican will vote for anything that harms the profits of the rich and the corporate sector, which they abjectly serve.

We should remember that this is not built in. Go back to 2008 when Senator John McCain was running for president. He had a small climate program. Not much, but something. Congress, including the Republicans, was considering doing something about what everyone knew was an impending crisis. The Koch Brothers’ huge energy conglomerate got wind of it. They had been working for years to ensure that the Republicans would loyally support their campaign to destroy human civilization. Here, there was deviation. They launched an enormous campaign, bribing, intimidating, astroturfing, lobbying to return the Republicans to total denialism, and they succeeded.

Since then, it’s the prime denialist party. In the last Republican primary before Trump took over in 2016, all the top Republican figures vying for the presidential nomination, either said that there’s no global warming or maybe there is, but it’s none of our business. The one small exception, greatly praised by liberal opinion, was John Kasich, the governor of Ohio. And he was actually the worst of all. What he said was: of course, global warming’s happening. Of course, humans are contributing to it. But we in Ohio are going to use our coal freely and without apology. He was so greatly honored that he would be invited to speak at the next Democratic convention. Well, that’s one of the two political parties. Not a sign of deviation among them from: let’s race to destruction in order to ensure that our prime constituency is as rich and powerful as possible.

Now, what about the other party? There was Bernie Sanders’s initiative, the Sunrise Movement’s activism, and even Joe Biden at first had a moderately decent climate program — not enough, but a big step forward from anything in the past. It would, however, be cut down, step by step, by 100% Republican opposition, and a couple of right-wing Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. What finally came out was the Inflation Reduction Act, which could only get through by providing gifts to the energy corporations.

It brings to the fore the ultimate insanity of our institutional structure. If you want to stop destroying the planet and human life on Earth, you have to bribe the rich and powerful, so maybe they’ll come along. If we offer them enough candy, maybe they’ll stop killing people. That’s savage capitalism. If you want to get anything done, you have to bribe those who own the place.

And look what’s happening. Oil prices are out of sight and the energy corporations say: Sorry boys, no more sustainable energy. We make more money by destroying you. Even BP, the one company that was beginning to do something, in essence said: No, we make more profit from destroying everything, so we’re going to do that.

It became very clear at the Glasgow COP conference. John Kerry, the U.S. climate representative, was euphoric. He basically said we’ve won. We now have the corporations on our side. How can we lose? Well, there was a small footnote pointed out by political economist Adam Tooze. He agreed that, yes, they’d said that but with two conditions. One, we’ll join you as long as it’s profitable. Two, there has to be an international guarantee that, if we suffer any loss, the taxpayer covers it. That’s what’s called free enterprise. With such an institutional structure, it’s going to be hard to get out of this.

So, what’s the Biden administration doing? Let’s take the Willow project. Right now, it’s allowing ConocoPhillips to open a major project in Alaska, which will bring online more fossil fuels for decades. They’re using known methods to harden the Alaskan permafrost. One of the great dangers is that the permafrost, which covers enormous amounts of hidden fossil fuels, is melting, sending greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will be monstrous. So, they’re hardening the permafrost. Big step forward! Why are they doing it? So, they can use it to exploit the oil more effectively. That’s savage capitalism right in front of our eyes with stark clarity. It takes genius not to see it, but it’s being done.

Look at popular attitudes, Pew does regular polling. They recently asked people in a poll to rank in priority a couple of dozen urgent issues, though nuclear war, which is as great a threat as climate change, wasn’t even listed. Climate change was way down near the bottom. Much more important was the budget deficit, which is not a problem at all. Thirteen percent of Republicans — that’s almost a statistical error — thought climate change was an urgent problem. More Democrats did, but not enough.

The question is: Can people who care about minimal human values, like, say, survival, organize and act effectively enough to overcome not only governments, but capitalist institutions designed for suicide?

Barsamian: The question always comes up and you’ve heard it a million times: The owners of the economy, the captains of industry, the CEOs, they have children, they have grandchildren, how can they not think of their future and protect them rather than putting them at risk?

Chomsky: Let’s say you’re the CEO of JPMorgan. You’ve replaced Jamie Dimon. You know perfectly well that when you fund fossil fuels, you’re destroying the lives of your grandchildren. I can’t read his mind, but I suspect that what’s going through it is: If I don’t do this, somebody else will be put in who — because it’s the nature of such institutions — will aim for profit and market share. If I’m kicked out, somebody else, not as nice a guy as I am, will come in. At least I know we’re destroying everything and try to mitigate it slightly. That next guy won’t give a damn. So, as a benefactor of the human race, I’ll continue to fund fossil-fuel development.

That’s a convincing position for just about all the people doing this. For 40 years, ExxonMobil’s scientists were way in the lead in discovering the threats and extreme dangers of global warming. For decades, they informed management that we’re destroying the world and it was just tucked away in some drawer somewhere.

In 1988, James Hansen, the famous geophysicist, gave Senate testimony, essentially saying, we’re racing to disaster. The management of ExxonMobil and the other companies had to consider that. We can’t just put it in the drawer anymore. So, they called in their PR experts and said, “How should we handle this?” And they responded, “If you deny it, you’ll be exposed right away. So don’t deny it. Just cast doubt. Say, maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. We haven’t really looked into all the possibilities. We haven’t understood the sunspots, questions about cloud cover, so let’s just become a richer, more developed society. Small footnote, we’ll make a lot more profits and later on, if there’s any reality to this, we’ll be in a better position to deal with it.”

That was the propaganda line. Very effective PR. And then you get the Koch Brothers juggernaut and the like buying the Republican Party, or what used to be a political party, and turning them into total denialists, claiming maybe it’s a liberal hoax, and so on.

The Democrats contributed to this in other ways. One interesting thing about the recent election in areas along the Texas border: Mexican-Americans, who had always voted Democratic, voted for Trump. Why? Well, you can easily imagine: I’ve got a job in the oil industry. The Democrats want to take away my job, destroy my family, all because those liberal elitists claim there’s global warming going on. Why should I believe them? Let’s vote for Trump. At least I’ll have a job and be able to feed my family.

What the Democrats didn’t do was go down there, organize, educate, and say, “The environmental crisis is going to destroy you and your families. You can get better jobs in sustainable energy and your children will be better off.” Actually, in places where they did do that, they won. One of the most striking cases was West Virginia, a coal state, where Joe Manchin, the coal industry senator, has been blocking so much. My friend and colleague Bob Pollin and his group at the University of Massachusetts, PERI, the Political Economy Research Institute, have been working on the ground there and they now have mine workers calling for a transition to sustainable energy. The United Mine Workers even passed resolutions calling for it.

Barsamian: What about what’s going on in the banking sector given the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank, followed by Signature Bank, and the problems at First Republic Bank?

Chomsky: First of all, I don’t claim any special expertise in this, but the people who do, serious economists who are also honest about it like Paul Krugman, say very simply: we don’t know. This goes back almost 45 years to the deregulation mania. Deregulate finance and you shift to a financial-based economy, while de-industrializing the country. You make your money out of finance, not out of building things — risky endeavors that are very profitable but will lead to a crash and then you call on the government, meaning the taxpayer, to bail you out.

There weren’t any major banking crises in the 1950s and 1960s, a big growth period, because the Treasury Department kept control of the banking industry. In those days, a bank was just a bank. You had some extra money, you put it there. Somebody came and borrowed money to buy a car or send his or her kid to college. That was banking. It started to change a little bit with Jimmy Carter, but Ronald Reagan was the avalanche. You got people like Larry Summers saying, let’s deregulate derivatives, throw the whole thing open. One crisis after another followed. The Reagan administration ended with the huge savings and loan crisis. Again, call in the friendly taxpayer. The rich make plenty of money and the rest pay the costs.

It’s what Bob Pollin and Gerry Epstein called the “bailout economy.” Free enterprise, make money as long as you can, until the crisis comes along and the public bails you out. The biggest one was 2008. What happened? Thanks to the deregulation of complicated financial products like derivatives and other initiatives under Bill Clinton, you got a crash in the housing industry, then in the financial industry. Congress did pass legislation, TARP, with two components. First, it bailed out the gangsters who had caused the crisis through subprime mortgages, loans they knew would never be paid back. Second, it did something for the people who had lost their homes, been kicked out on the street with foreclosures. Guess which half of the legislation the Obama administration implemented? It was such a scandal that the Inspector General of the Treasury Department, Neil Barofsky, wrote a book denouncing what happened. No effect. In response, lots of workers who voted for Obama believing in his hope-and-change line became Trump voters, feeling betrayed by the party that claimed to be for them.

Barsamian: The Ukraine war is now in its second year with no end in sight. China has proposed a peace plan to end it. What are the realistic chances of that happening anytime soon?

Chomsky: The Global South is calling for some negotiated settlement to put an end to the horrors before they get worse. Of course, the Russian invasion was a criminal act of aggression. No question about that. Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves. I don’t think there should be any question about that either.

The question is: Will the United States agree to allow negotiations to take place? The official U.S. position is that the war must continue to severely weaken Russia. In fact, the United States is actually getting a bargain out of this. With a small fraction of its colossal military budget, it’s severely degrading its major military opponent, Russia, which doesn’t have much of an economy but does have a huge military. You can ask whether that’s why they’re doing it, but that’s a fact.

There’s a pretext: if we continue to support the war, we’ll put Ukraine in a better negotiating position. Actually, they’ll likely be in a worse one, since that country’s being destroyed by the war, economically. Virtually their entire army’s gone, replaced by new recruits, barely trained. Russia’s suffering badly as well, but if you look at their relative power, who’s going to win in a stalemate? It’s not a big secret. Ukraine is likely to be destroyed and yet the U.S. position is: we’ve got to continue, got to severely weaken Russia, and by some miracle, Ukraine will become stronger.

Britain follows the United States. But what about Europe? So far, its elites have gone along with the United States. Its people, not so clear. Judging by polls, the public is calling for negotiations. The business world is deeply concerned. Putin’s criminal aggression was also an act of criminal stupidity from his point of view. Russia and Europe are natural commercial partners. Russia has resources and minerals, Europe technology and industry. Instead, Putin handed Washington its greatest wish on a silver platter. He said: Okay, Europe. Go be a satellite of the United States, which means that you will move towards deindustrialization.

The Economist magazine among others has been warning that Europe’s going to move towards deindustrialization if it continues to back the NATO-based, U.S.-run war, which much of the world now regards as a proxy war between Russia and the United States over Ukrainian bodies. Actually, it goes well beyond that. In response to U.S. demands, NATO has now expanded to the Indo-Pacific, meaning the U.S. has Europe in its pocket for its confrontation with China, for encircling it with a ring of states heavily armed with U.S. precision weapons.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has called for a commercial war to prevent Chinese development for a generation. We can’t compete with them, so let’s prevent them from getting advanced technology. The supply chains in the world are so intricate that almost everything — patents, technology, whatever — involves some U.S. input. The Biden administration says that nobody can use any of this in commercial relations with China. Think what that means for the Netherlands, which has the world’s most advanced lithographic industry, producing essential parts for semiconductors, for chips. It’s being ordered by Washington to stop dealing with its major market, China, a pretty serious blow to its industry. Will they agree? We don’t know. Same with South Korea. The U.S is telling Samsung, the big South Korean firm, you’ve got to cut yourself off from your major market because we have some patents that you use. The same with Japanese industry.

Nobody knows how they’re going to react. Are they going to willingly deindustrialize to fit a U.S. policy of global domination? The Global South — India, Indonesia, Latin American countries — is already saying, we don’t accept such sanctions. This could develop into a major confrontation on the world scene.

Barsamian: Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been warning of the dangers posed by nuclear reactors in Ukraine. Shelling and fighting near them could, he says, trigger “a nuclear disaster.” Meanwhile, the Biden administration is going ahead with the “modernization” of U.S. nuclear weapons. Is this another example of when the lunatics control the asylum?

Chomsky: Unfortunately, one of the major problems Dan Ellsberg and some others have been trying to get us to understand for years is the growing threat of nuclear war. In Washington, people talk about it as if it were a joke: let’s have a small nuclear war with China! Air Force general Mike Minihan recently predicted that we’re going to have a war with China in two years. It’s beyond insanity. There can’t be a war between nuclear powers.

Meanwhile, U.S. strategic planning under Trump, expanded by Biden, has been to prepare for two nuclear wars, with Russia and China. Yes, those Ukrainian nuclear reactors are a major problem, but it goes beyond that. The United States is now sending tanks and other weaponry to Ukraine. Poland is sending jet planes. Sooner or later, Russia’s likely to attack the supply routes. (U.S. military analysts are a little surprised that it’s held back this long.) You have leading figures from Washington visiting Kyiv. Do you remember anybody visiting the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, when the United States was pounding it to dust? Not in my recollection. In fact, a few peace volunteers were ordered out of the country, because it was being so devastated. Ukraine’s being badly hit, but if Russia goes on to attack Western Ukraine including the supply routes, maybe even beyond that, then direct confrontations with NATO become possible.

In fact, it’s already moving up the escalation ladder. How far will it go? You have people in the hawkish sector suggesting that maybe we can sink the Russian Black Sea fleet. And if so, they’re going to say, thank you, that was nice, we didn’t really care much about those ships, right?

In fact, to go back to that Pew poll, they didn’t even list nuclear war as one of the issues people could rank. Insanity is the only word you can use for it.

Barsamian: Speaking of planetary dangers, the START Treaty between the U.S. and Russia established limits on deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Recently, Russia suspended its participation in it. What’s the danger of that?

Chomsky: Russia was sharply condemned for that. Rightly. Negative acts should be criticized. But there’s some background to it we’re not supposed to talk about. The arms control regime was painstakingly developed over 60 years. A lot of hard work and negotiation. Huge public demonstrations in the United States and Europe led Ronald Reagan to accept Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s proposals for the Intermediate Short Range Missile Treaty in Europe, a very important step in 1987. Dwight D. Eisenhower had initiated thinking about an Open Skies Treaty. John F. Kennedy took some steps. Over time, it developed, until George W. Bush became president.

Since then, the Republican Party has been systematically dismantling 60 years of arms control. Bush dismantled the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. That was crucial. It’s a great danger to Russia to have ABM installations right near its border, since those are first-strike weapons. Trump came along with his wrecking ball and got rid of the Reagan-Gorbachev INF Treaty and later the Open Skies Treaty. He was after the New START Treaty, too, but Biden came in just in time to agree to Russian proposals to extend it. Now, the Russians have suspended that one. All of this is a race to disaster and the main criminals happen to be the Republican Party in the United States. Putin’s act should be condemned, but it hardly took place in isolation.

Barsamian: U.S. intelligence recently issued its Annual Threat Assessment. It says, “China has the capability to directly attempt to alter the rules-based global order in every realm and across multiple regions as a near-peer competitor that is increasingly pushing to change global norms.” That phrase “rules-based global order” is vintage Orwell.

Chomsky: It’s an interesting phrase. In the United States, if you’re an obedient intellectual commentator and scholar, you take it for granted that we must have a rules-based order. But who sets the rules? We don’t ask that question because it has an obvious answer: the rules are set by the Godfather in Washington. China is now openly challenging it and, for years, has been calling for a UN-based international order, supported by much of the world, especially the Global South. The U.S. can’t accept not setting the rules, however, since it would involve a strict bar against the threat of, or use of, force in international affairs, which would mean barring U.S. foreign policy. Can you think of a president who hasn’t engaged in the threat of, or use of, force? And not just massive criminal actions like the invasion of Iraq. When Obama tells Iran that all options are open unless you do what we say, that’s a threat of force. Every single U.S. president has violated the UN-based international order.

And here’s a little footnote you’re not supposed to cite. They’ve also violated the U.S. Constitution. Read Article Six, which says that treaties entered into by the United States are the supreme law of the land every elected official is bound to observe. The major post-World War II treaty was that UN Charter, which bans the threat or use of force. In other words, every single U.S. president has violated the Constitution, which we’re supposed to worship as given to us by God.

So, is China becoming a “peer competitor”? It is in the regions surrounding it. Look at the war games run by the Pentagon and they suggest that, if there were a local war over Taiwan, China would probably win. Of course, the idea is ridiculous because any war would quickly explode into a terminal one. But those are the games they play. So, China’s a peer competitor. Is it acting properly and legally? Of course not. It’s fortified rocks in the South China Sea. It’s in violation of international law, in violation of a specific judgment of the UN, but it’s expanding.

Still, the primary Chinese threat is initiatives like bringing Saudi Arabia and Iran together and so throwing a serious wrench into U.S. policies going back 80 years to control the Middle East. Strategically, it’s the “most important area in the world,” as the government put it, and China’s horning in on that, creating a political settlement that might reduce tensions, might even solve the horrifying war in Yemen, while bringing together Washington’s primary ally there, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, its major enemy. That’s intolerable! For the U.S. and Israel, it’s a real blow.

Barsamian: Your classic book with Ed Herman is Manufacturing Consent. If you were updating it today, you would, of course, replace the Soviet Union with China and/or Russia and undoubtedly add the growth of social media. Anything else?

Chomsky: Those would be the main things. Social media is not a small point. It’s having a very complex effect on American society. Go back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The majority of the population thought that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Beyond outlandish, but they had heard enough propaganda here to believe it. Social media is only making all of this worse. A recent study of young people, of what’s called Generation Z, and where they get their news found that almost nobody reads the newspapers anymore. Almost nobody watches television. Very few people even look at Facebook. They’re getting it from TikTok, Instagram. What kind of a community is going to try to understand this world from watching people having fun on TikTok?

The other effect of social media is to drive people into self-reinforcing bubbles. We’re all subject to that. People like me listen to your program or Democracy Now. We don’t listen to Breitbart. Conversely, the same is true. And another monster is coming along, the chatbot system of artificial intelligence, a wonderful way to create disinformation, demonization, defamation. Probably no way to control it. And all of this is part of manufacturing consent. We are the best and the brightest. Get those people out of our hair and we’ll run the world for everybody’s benefit. We’ve seen how that works.

Barsamian: How do we overcome propaganda and what are some techniques for challenging savage capitalism?

Chomsky: The way you challenge propaganda is the way you’re doing it, just more — more active, more engaged. As for savage capitalism, there are two steps. The smaller is to eliminate the savage part. It’s not exactly utopian to say: let’s go back to what we had pre-Reagan. Let’s have a moderately harsh capitalism in which there are still some decent wages, rights for people, and so on. Far from ideal, but much better than what we’ve had since.

The second step is to get rid of the core problem. Let’s go back to the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Working people took it for granted that the wage contract was a totally illegitimate assault on their basic rights, turning you into what were openly called “wage slaves.” Why should we follow the orders of a master for all of our waking lives? It was considered an abomination. It was even a slogan of the Republican Party under Lincoln that this was intolerable. That movement lasted into the early 20th century before finally being crushed by Woodrow Wilson’s Red Scare, which basically wiped out the Socialist Party and the labor movement. There was some recovery in the thirties, but not to that extent.

And now even that’s gone. People regard it as their highest goal in life to be subjected to the orders of a master for most of their waking lives. And that’s really effective propaganda, but it can change, too. There already are proposals for worker participation in management that are anything but utopian. They exist in Germany and other places and that could become: Why don’t we take the enterprise over for ourselves? Why should we follow the orders of some banker in New York when we can run this place better? I don’t think that’s all that far away.

Barsamian: The lunatics seemingly control the asylum. What signs of sanity are out there to counter the lunatics?

Chomsky: Plenty. There’s lots of popular activism. It’s in the streets. Young people calling for the decent treatment of others. A lot of it is very solid and serious. Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement. Let’s save the planet from destruction. There are lots of voices. Yours, Democracy Now, Chris Hedges, lots of sites, Alternet, Common Dreams, Truthout, The Intercept, TomDispatch, many others. All of these are efforts to create an alternative world in which human beings can survive. Those are the signs of hope for the world.

Hypocrite-in-chief McConnell reaches new heights with claim Biden commission will 'politicize' the Supreme Court

William Hazlitt: "The only vice which cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy" That's why hypocrisy cavorts with notorious cousins: fraud and knavery. Rank stupidity (like Trump's) doesn't quite compete because world-class hypocrites thrive only when inventing plausible scenarios – and Trump's fraudulence quickly exposes itself: he is manifestly the same scurrilous person inside and out. No wonder Trump and Mitch McConnell can't stand each other: they honor different devils.

Thus emerges the reigning Hypocrite-in-chief: Senator Mitch McConnell. In April the most visible GOP leader -- and icon of special big business interests -- provided this farce: he was shocked, shocked to discover that wary corporations could not abide wholesale, Republican voter suppression in Georgia. Without missing a beat a week later he coughed up that Biden's modest, 36 member (!) Supreme Court Commission "fits squarely within liberals' years-long campaign to politicize the Court." Squarely? Liberals'? Years-long campaign? Politicize? Is this a new form of self-satire?

Judicial Snub for the Ages

With mastery in politicizing the federal judiciary, McConnell wedged through more rightwing judges in the last four years than anyone in modern history. Two ignoble Supreme justices owe elevation to McConnell. Nothing is sacred for this double-dealer who degraded court justice as just another power play in which the end justifies criminal means. No other American politician dared refuse for eight months even a hearing for Obama's mandated Merrick Garland nomination, thus blocking the most important Constitutional privilege awarded every president: to pick high court judges.

Is there any doubt such manipulation stands among the most corrupt Senate moves in history, a sabotage of procedural justice? Not only did McConnell block Obama's nomination but ended up installing Neil Gorsuch, an unsavory, regressive choice installed for decades. Staining both the country and the Supreme Court, McConnell fabricated a stolen payoff for rightwing ideologues. Prior attempts to "pack the Court" (though legal) pale compared to this outlandish maneuver, all the worse because it succeeded. If "gerrymandering" the high court is not a high crime that invites indictment, what is?

As the Wash Post summarized, "Garland will be remembered as the Supreme Court nominee who dangled in the wind for eight months in 2016, waiting for a Senate hearing that never came. To Democrats, it was an outrage and a raw display of political power. To Republicans, it was an election-year gamble that paid off." Almost as bad is what McConnell had to do to deliver, per NPR, "Senate Pulls 'Nuclear' Trigger To Ease Gorsuch Confirmation.

On top of the atrocious Garland postponement, McConnell sidetracked the 60 vote filibuster rule on top court picks with a "nuclear" Senate change: a simple majority to approve Supreme Court justices. That's a big deal as far short of 60 senators supported Gorsuch, as a judge and a slippery character. McConnell's filibuster ploy is all the more outrageous considering today's ardent GOP defenses of the hallowed 60 vote filibuster. Thus was the Constitution and the Senate degraded, Garland robbed and Gorsuch awarded a lifetime appointment. And now the Great Court Manipulator has the infinite gall to posit that Biden is the culprit politicizing the Supreme Court.

Next chapter verifying McConnell hypocrisy involved the 11th hour (of the Trump presidency) assault on justice and fairness, if not grade-school consistency. That's when McConnell pushed through Amy Coney Barrett after Justice Ginsberg died only weeks before the upcoming 2020 election. So much for the gist of McConnell's earlier hypocrisy with Garland: "eleven months is too close to the next election to pick a new justice. Let the people decide. Why rush?" McConnell pretense was on full display when he saw a tiny opening to anoint Barrett, squeezed through with a rush to fill Ginsberg's empty chair.

Even if he did nothing else for the next three years, Biden could not approach the iniquity of the McConnell rampage against justice, tradition, and democratic interests of a vast majority. McConnell didn't just politicize the selection of justices – he corrupted the entire process, thus empowering suspect, undeserving Supreme Court justices until they die or resign, long after Mitch is gone, even in his grave.

P.S. Biden's proposed Supreme Court commission "may be a dud," or more about appearance than highly justified Supreme Court reform. Per Ian Millhiser in Vox and Jonathan Turley in The Hill, no strong proponents of Supreme Court reform populates this commission. Clearly, the White House "prioritized bipartisanship and star power within the legal academy over choosing people who have actually spent a meaningful amount of time advocating for Supreme Court reforms," Millhiser writes. Notably, members of the rightwing Federalist Society approved commission choices, signaling its paper tiger status.

For 15 years, Robert S. Becker's independent essays on politics and culture have analyzed trends, history, frameworks and messaging. Featured at Nation of Change and Smirking Chimp, Becker has credits from Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, OpEdNews, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Absolute Sound. With a UC Berkeley PhD in English, Becker left university teaching (Northwestern and U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company prominent from 1980s-1992. From 1992-2002, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. He is submitting a manuscript to publishers on the Chinese American Look Tin Eli, responsible for look and feel of most American Chinatowns, having orchestrated the restoration of San Francisco's Chinatown after the 1906 earthquake.

The misguided prophets of a new conservatism: Why right-wing intellectuals struggle to make sense of Trump

If you're like most people, you haven't followed the twists and turns of conservative intellectual efforts to gin up a new account of American conservatism distinguishing it from Trumpism. But if the past is any guide, don't worry. You're not

Conservatism since Reagan has been about interests, not ideas. The Reagan coalition united economic conservatives focused on "smaller government"—i.e., lower taxes and regulations—and religious conservatives intent on preserving traditional morality, which boiled down mostly to sex they don't like. The economic conservatives were the dominant partner. When the Reagan-era conservative movement deployed ideas, it was usually as a fig leaf to cover the nakedness of the dominant partner's interest.

The conservative movement that lasted from the late-1970s until 2016 looks positively egg-headed compared to today's Trumpist party. Trump's intuitive genius was to understand the standard account of the Republican coalition was incomplete. A big slice of the "smaller government" crowd, Trump understood, wasn't motivated by economic interest at all. Rather, for a lot of exurban and rural Republicans, small government was not about reducing taxes but a way of starving the government of resources that benefit people they didn't like—namely, people who aren't white.

No amount of conservative intellectualizing is going to put a fig leaf over that. And so if conservative intellectuals are going to have any relevance, they will have to reshape American conservatism rather than simply providing ideas that cover for it.

So far the effort to do that has yielded very little. Even before Trump, the so-called "Reformicons," a circle of conservative intellectuals centered around National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru and National Affairs's Yuval Levin, argued that conservative economic policies should be reoriented away from the Reagan-era catechism and toward support of the working class—in particular, toward a set of policies aiming to strengthen the economic position of ordinary families and to restore social mobility.

Trump's ascent initially made the Reformicons look prophetic. But "reform conservatism" sputtered out in part because it was, well, still conservative. It was still burdened by the conservative reflex to devolve responsibility for reforms to state and local governments and to private charities—none of which were remotely up to the task. More to the point, the Reformicons weren't meeting the GOP's working-class voters where they were. They were trying to marry traditional conservatism to class-consciousness. But the GOP's working-class voters were far more focused on race.

Next came "Common Good Conservatism," even less likely to appeal to Trump's GOP. The main text is Notre Dame political philosopher Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed, a 2017 polemic arguing that virtually all of our society's pathologies can be laid at the feet of liberalism's identification of individual autonomy as the principal good.

Deneen's book has had more influence than it deserves. His idée fixe is too simple—he reduces liberalism to a sort of soft libertarianism. Deneen's response is essentially rehashed Reformiconism, but without the engagement with practical politics that made the Reformicons' ideas minimally credible. Deneen argues for more localism, more communitarianism, but he does little to explain practically what kind of political movement would be needed to get us there or how it could be put together.

The surest sign "Common Good Conservatism" is going nowhere is its hijacking by a band of well-credentialed kooks operating under the banner of Catholic "integralism." Advocated most loudly by Harvard Law professor and recent Catholic convert Adrian Vermeule, integralism understands the "common good" as equivalent to (less liberal) pre-Vatican II Catholic doctrine (as Vermeule and his collaborators misunderstand it).

To give you a sense of Vermeule's program, here's his argument for prioritizing immigration for "confirmed Catholics" ("confirmed" meaning Catholics who have completed the sacrament of confirmation in their early teens, thereby signaling to Vermeule that they are "real" Catholics rather than merely baptized non-believers):

The principle is to give lexical priority to confirmed Catholics, all of whom will jump immediately to the head of the queue. Yes, some will convert in order to gain admission; this is a feature, not a bug. This principle will disproportionately favor immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. (Note here that the priority is for actual Catholics, not for applicants from "historically Catholic countries"; relatively few Western Europeans will pass through the eye of the needle, and the Irish will be almost totally excluded). It will disproportionately favor the poor, and will draw no distinction between those seeking asylum based on a fear of persecution, and those fleeing "mere" economic hardship. It will in effect require opening the southern border of the United States, although immigration from Canada will rightly become a rare and difficult event, at least if we do not count a small subset of Quebecois.1

It's difficult for me, as a Catholic who grew up worshipping in a working- and middle-class parish (unlike Vermeule, who was raised Episcopalian in Cambridge, Mass., by well-off academics) to explain how absurd integralism is as an account of Catholicism as it exists in America. The mass of American Catholics would have no truck with Vermeule's ideas—indeed, they are far more likely to view them as confirming the worst prejudices that non-Catholics hold about Catholics and their supposed authoritarian bent (see, e.g., the speech Senator John Kennedy was forced to give to dispel the fear that as president he would be taking orders from the Pope).

Integralism as a political program, is, if possible, more preposterous. Vermeule said opposition to his immigration proposal "almost necessarily defends some alternative principle of immigration priority that allocates fewer spots to non-whites and to the poor, and is thus a troubling indicator of racism and classism infesting whoever voices that opposition." Um, yeah. And that's exactly the reef on which integralism, if it didn't already have about a thousand other disabling features, would ground. There is no constituency in the GOP for a race-neutral immigration policy. It's the opposite.

So what's the future of conservative ideas? It's hard to count intellectuals out entirely; the movement will continue to maintain the "ideas infrastructure" (which doesn't cost much) if, for nothing else, to support useful apparatchiks. That said, if intellectuals continue to produce ideas that would only work if we replaced the current conservative base with some better set of voters, the auguries aren't good. It may be at some point that it's the conservative intellectuals who get replaced—that is, we may see the current bunch pushed aside by new entrants who attempt to prettify white racial authoritarianism. Those ideas would be terrible. But at least they'd be relevant.

The disturbing re-emergence of 19th-century pseudoscience

The second half of the 19th century left a lot of junk in America's mental attic: that place we let old notions, impressions and delusions pile up rather than taking them to slumber in a faraway landfill. Our dead and outmoded ideas have gathered dust, out of sight and out of mind. Lately, however, shifting demographic realities, rising ethnic anxiety and the mania of the final chapters of the Trump presidency (this one, at least), have brought them tumbling down the attic stairs to be dealt with once again.

This was brought into uncomfortably sharp focus as abortive plans for the new America First congressional caucus whipped around social media. It was 19th-century pseudoscience dressed in modern garb and moving at the speed of light. Merely outmoded and thoroughly discredited ideas about immigration, heritage, essential American traditions, even preferred styles of architecture were again shoved under the nation's nose, and, for once, it didn't go well. In just a few days, elected officials said to be the founding parents of this new caucus (Reps. Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert et al.) were running for cover, disowning their reputed brainchild.

A congressional caucus sticking up for "aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture," darkly reminding us how certain "economic and financial interest groups" benefit from immigration and asserting a "uniquely Anglo-Saxon" culture is not only wrong about what the US was, is and will be. It's also late. Too late to change the trajectory of American life and bend it toward a pre-Ellis Island fantasy.

The new census numbers (will) show us a preview of the coming America: our country is home to more than 60 million Latinos, more than 40 million Americans of African descent and more than 20 million people of Asian ancestry. Of the more than 200 million Americans of European ancestry, millions upon millions have an old sepia photograph of a forebear from southern Italy, Lithuania, Greece or Portugal.

Lurking between the lines of the America First caucus' white-centered nostalgia is a pernicious gesture of historical erasure, implying that Americans from more recent nonwhite immigrant generations put the essentials of a common culture at "unnecessary risk," while the people whose great grandparents were watched with horror and disgust by "Anglo-Saxon Americans" in the 19th century are now, safely, us.

The movement of tens of millions from Ireland, Germany, Italy and the Czarist Empire to this hemisphere in the roughly 75 years from the Revolutions of 1848 to Congress slamming the door in the 1920s was one of the greatest mass migrations in human history, changing the histories of the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. American elites scorned the new arrivals as illiterate, filthy, diseased, unintelligent, clinging to foreign religions and unfit for the responsibilities of citizenship.

At the same time, scientists from America's greatest universities, in concert and competition with European scholars, were frantically measuring the bridges of noses, cranium sizes and the prominence of jaws, creating new and utterly bogus categories of human origin to back up their coalescing ideas about the differences between an immigrant from the Balkans and one from Birmingham. It may not surprise you to read that northern and western Europeans were found to be superior stock.

As John Crawfurd, in "On the Classification of the Races of Man," published in London by the Royal Anthropological Society in 1861 sagely observes, "The offspring of a Scandinavian and a Negro is inferior to the Scandinavian and superior to the Negro … The Mestizo [white and indigenous American descent] is much inferior to the Spaniard, but superior to the Red Indian." Crawfurd does allow that geographically close "races," like Italians, Greeks and Germans might mate without a loss of quality. He even offers his readers the novel, perhaps radical, notion that the English themselves have not been degraded, alors!, by occasional mixing with the French.

This stuff gets dusted off and buffed into comfortable euphemism in the America First manifesto, invoking history as evidence that "social trust and political unity are threatened" by immigrants "imported en masse into a country," who will also need the support of an "expansive welfare state" to "bail them out should they fail."

Whoever wrote this drivel is hoping you don't know the same rhetoric was used against Europeans of decidedly un-Anglo-Saxon origin during the decades when waves and waves of immigrants from Calabria and Krakow, Budapest and Ballymurphy pulled within sight of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The editorial pages of the elite press were full of speculation about whether these arrivals and their offspring would be strong enough, smart enough, have fine enough social sentiments to contribute to the country's future. A century and a half later, "Anglo-Saxon" status is being dangled as an upgrade, an association perhaps yearned for by Yiddish-, Italian- and German-speaking greenhorns standing in the arrivals hall at Ellis Island.

The America First caucus figured descendants of the huddled masses, the restless refuse and the tempest tossed wouldn't see themselves, and their family's stories, in the new Americans finding their feet. It's been over 50 years since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened the US to Africans, Asians and Latin Americans "yearning to breathe free." The manifestos writers were so sure misremembered American history could be turned into political gold and a new flag to rally around.

America's demographic cake is baked. At some point in the middle of the current century, the number of Americans who trace their ancestry to Africa, Asia and Latin America will surpass the number of those whose forebears came here from Europe. Americans of European ancestry will cease to be the majority, but will by far be the largest single racial group in the United States for decades after that.

In 2010, for the first time in centuries (but for every year since), a majority of the children born in the United States were not of European ancestry. Today, those kids are in middle school. In a few years, they'll head into military recruitment offices and to college fairs. Not long after that, they will constitute a majority of the workforce, supporting tens of millions of white Americans through their FICA deductions.

The messaging, in the America First declaration of principles, and night after night on Fox News, is loud and clear: these new people aren't like us. They're changing the country you thought you knew in ways you won't like. And, perhaps worst of all, they won't pull their weight. And when that happens, who'll have to support them? You.

The story they want to tell, refuted by decades of national experience, refuted by the people from everywhere who have climbed every ladder—from science to politics to religion to business to sports—is that we're full. We can't take any more striving, struggling, ambitious, hard-working people. Especially if they aren't like us already. And, psssst … if they aren't like us already, they're never going to get the hang of it.

It was wrong in 1871. It was wrong half a century later in 1921, when the nativists were re-writing immigration law. And it's wrong today. Sure, this latest attempt to merge European identity tightly to American nationality was laughed out of the room.

The next one may not be.

My senator uses his image as a Black conservative to cover up the GOP's worst behavior

I would tell you a story about the idiocy of one of my senators, Lindsey Graham, but you probably know it. It's about his rank hypocrisy and lying about what he'd do with a US Supreme Court opening during an election year with a Republican in the White House. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, Graham and other GOP senators held the seat vacant for more than eight months. Graham quickly switched course under President Donald Trump after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, abandoning his previous "use my words against me" pledge, which paved the way for a 6-3 conservative court. Just recently he talked about the need to be heavily armed in case of a natural disaster and those he represents in the US Senate come to rob and murder him. Or something. I can't express how disgusted many of the moderate voters of South Carolina are, who used to believe he was a statesman. It's grating to even hear his voice or see his face on Fox News. His spiral into indecency has been stunning.

As hideous as Graham has become, we should save a bit for Tim Scott, who became the first Black man to win a Senate seat for a Deep South state since Reconstruction when he beat Democratic challenger Joyce Dickerson in 2014. Scott believes himself to be a kind of conscience of the Republican Party, a man led by his deep-abiding Christian faith who is well aware of his place in history. From time to time, he has acted on that impulse, including when he took to the Senate floor to talk about his experience with racial profiling and stopped a racist Trump nominee from receiving a lifetime appointment to a federal bench. Even in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the protests sparked by it, he led his party in an attempt to secure policing reform. His proposal seemed sincere even though it was far from sufficient the moment he declared qualified immunity for police officers, an egregious abuse of the legal system that likely fuels police misbehavior, off limits. He loves talking about Opportunity Zones (though they aren't as effective as he claims). He helped usher through a criminal justice reform bill begun in Obama's era and signed into law in Trump's.

It's Republicans like Scott who make everything tougher on a national level, because we put next to no pressure on them to do the right thing, no matter the issue. He's under no pressure to break ranks in favor of immigration reform or comprehensive background checks. He did not cross the line to vote for nearly $2 trillion in covid relief and poverty-fighting funding that will make life better for the poorest, most vulnerable residents of his state. And he has not had to answer for the odious voting rights law recently implemented by our neighbors in Georgia and being pushed by his party in nearly every state. He hasn't been pressed hard on whether Graham was wrong to have called election officials in Georgia after the 2020 election cycle. Because he's done a few reasonable things, it's given him cover while he quietly supports various kinds of injustices that are more likely to be attached to Graham and Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Maybe that's why national political reporters seem to not even bother to hold him to account.

We know Graham has no principles. We know he's sold his political soul, even though we don't why or to whom. Maybe he's still in a state of shock because his mentor, the late American statesman John McCain, is gone. We know Graham will say whatever he can to justify whatever action he wants to take, no matter how nakedly political, full of lies or harmful to his own constituents. There's no doubt about Graham any more. He's firmly put party power over country, and he won't be changing any time soon. The next headline he generates by saying something else that's awful won't be the last.

That's why it's that much more important to stop allowing politicians like Scott to continue getting away with being just like Graham, only quieter, more stoic. Scott was just as big of a Trump sycophant as Graham was. It's just that Scott's image as a conscience-filled Black Republican has made it easier for white Republicans. The white evangelical Christians who put Trump in office, and tried to give him a second term, could rest easier at night knowing they were on Scott's side. Now he's providing cover for the GOP's anti-democratic behavior targeting Black voters, a kind of 21st-century attempt to resurrect Jim Crow, which will have an effect far beyond South Carolina.

Scott should be ashamed of that. But he doesn't seem to be.

That doesn't mean we should keep letting him get off so easily. Scott imagines himself to be better than this. We need to remind him that his actions suggest otherwise.

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