Former neo-Nazi: Tucker Carlson sounds like me

The foul odor of fascism has become inescapable in the American atmosphere. Republican officials across the country are working overtime to undermine the right to vote, leading right-wing pundits brazenly promulgate racist conspiracy theories and the Anti-Defamation League reports that 2020 saw a 45 percent increase in hate crimes throughout the Midwest.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

There is perhaps no time more urgent to learn from one of fascism's former foot soldiers. Christian Picciolini became a neo-Nazi as a teenager in the working class Chicago suburb of Blue Island in the late 1980s. As the leader of the Chicago Area Skinheads (CASH) and singer in the white-power rock band the Final Solution, Picciolini was one of the most effective recruiters in the white supremacist movement.

His story transformed, however, from horrific to redemptive and inspiring. Picciolini is now one of the most effective anti-hate activists in the United States. The details of his transition from Nazi to progressive — from hate leader to democratic healer — are available in his fascinating and important memoir, "White American Youth: My Descent into America's Most Violent Hate Movement – And How I Got Out."

Picciolini is the co-founder and director of the Free Radicals Project, an international multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the prevention of hate crimes, and working to stunt the growth of the movements that fuel them. He chronicles his current work in his insightful new book, "Breaking Hate: Countering the New Culture of Extremism."

He is also the host of a new podcast, "F Your Racist History," which aims to educate listeners on the often unknown or whitewashed influence of racism in American culture, politics and economics.

In the past few years, Picciolini's warnings have become increasingly severe. As he and his colleagues at Free Radicals work to preserve the promise of multiracial democracy in the United States, Picciolini worries that the nation's complacency will soon meet a catastrophic end.

I recently spoke with Picciolini by phone about this work and analysis of the current crisis facing American politics.

You recently published an alarming assessment of American politics and culture on your Facebook page, writing, "Everything happening in America and the world right now and for the last decade (rise of neofascism, Qanon/conspiracists, Trumpism, 'America First,' white nationalism, polarization, etc.) is leading me to believe we will face a period of darkness like we've never seen before." Could you elaborate? What specifically has you so worried about this period of history?

Well, what's happened since Barack Obama's election is that we've seen the resurgence of a different kind of white supremacy. Up until that point, professionals, experts and those in law enforcement were touting the supposed fact that white supremacist organizations were either dead or dying. They were claiming that hate groups were going away, no one was joining groups like the Klan or becoming skinheads anymore and we were making great progress in combating white extremism. When Obama was elected, we saw a different kind of white supremacy. It wasn't about joining the Klan or neo-Nazi organizations. It became about recruiting and radicalizing the mainstream.

That's been happening now for a little longer than 12 years. We've seen the Libertarian Party infiltrated, and conservative spaces infiltrated by the same ideology I was involved with 30 years ago. Today we are seeing the effects of it. The fact that we are still in a place as a nation where we cannot agree that we have a problem with white supremacy — there are people who downplay the problem, there are others who are adamant that it doesn't even exist — we are setting ourselves up for a big failure. I think after this administration we are going to see things become more conservative politically, and then government will exercise a stranglehold over how we combat white extremism. It is already tough now. We can't find a consensus on it, which means we can't properly fight it. Imagine how tough it will become when the federal government is under control of less friendly policymakers.

I wish that I could tell you something different, but everything I've seen happen over the last 30 years, and everything I see happening now, leads me to believe that we are in for a period of darkness. That means that law enforcement won't feel that it has the support to do what they need to do to arrest white extremist criminals. White extremist criminals will blossom, and they will feel that they have the leeway to push the envelope. At the same time, we are seeing the institutions we depend on for safety — law enforcement, the military — becoming infiltrated with the same ideologies that affected me 30 years ago. It is becoming more and more part of the mainstream.

What I've seen happen, slowly but surely, over the past 30 years is that words I used to say as a neo-Nazi skinhead, the belief system that I had when I was an avowed white supremacist, are now part of the mainstream discussion. We are seeing people who are not neo-Nazis, or at least not claiming to be, spouting off the same beliefs — politicians, law enforcement officers, police unions. So we're in for a very rude awakening.

It is terrifying that if you compare the rhetoric of contemporary right-wing figures, including Donald Trump, and the rhetoric in your memoir as you look back on your involvement with neo-Nazis, or the rhetoric of Timothy McVeigh, it is difficult to find any daylight between them. Can you specify what language, issues and ideas that are now prominent in right-wing discourse and Republican Party propaganda resemble what you and your associates were saying when you were a neo-Nazi?

First, there is the more blatant conspiracy-oriented language, regarding the "others" controlling the power structure. That is starting to exist in the language of QAnon, in terms of talking about "globalism." But also, more specifically, what's penetrated the right is "replacement theory" or the "Great Replacement." What I mean by that is white supremacists believe that the demographics of the country are changing rapidly, and that soon white people will lose agency and power, because they will be the minority. Whether that is happening statistically or not is a different story, because what white supremacists believe is that it is an intentional process being put forward by global cabals of, in most cases, Jewish people who are trying to upset the balance of white power. White supremacists claim that diversity is genocide for the white race. They believe that the promotion of multiculturalism is a tool of white genocide.

We've started to hear those ideas, and similar ideas, come out of Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host with millions of viewers. It isn't just people like me when I was hanging out in dark alleys reading pamphlets from other conspiracy theorists. People are now getting this theory and hatred from Donald Trump, and various people in his orbit. They are getting it from Paul Gosar, a Republican congressman from Arizona. These are people with suits and ties. They look like the mainstream, they sound like the mainstream and, in certain cases, they've been elected to powerful positions by the mainstream. And yet they are saying the same dangerous and outlandish things that a 17-year-old Christian Picciolini said when he was sporting a swastika tattoo.

It is the whole notion that if white people don't wake up now, that they will be overrun. If you watch Tucker Carlson, people like David Duke and Tom Metzger, in the old days, said almost the exact same thing. They said, "White people, wake up! Immigration, the religions that they are forcing down our throats, multiculturalism — it's all a conspiracy to destroy our white power." Sometimes they use more palatable language, but they are using fear rhetoric to make white people afraid that they are being overrun by these other people and forces. Whether it is Islam, refugees, crime, immigrants or even the way they talk about outsourcing of jobs, it is all rooted in that same idea that white people have to be afraid.

And there is a certain set of policies that emanate out of that paranoia: "Build the wall," family separation, the Muslim ban, voter suppression. Does this racist paranoia explain why so many Republicans have overtly turned against electoral democracy? They are making a brazen attempt, through voter suppression and partisan seizure of election offices, to undermine democracy. Is that where the paranoia has taken us?

I think so. Voter suppression has been around a long time. Every time there is a push for inclusion, for more people to vote, there is voter suppression. If you go back to poll taxes and literacy tests, that's exactly what the Voting Rights Act was correcting. Yes, it was technically legal for Black people and others to vote, but white people in power made it almost impossible. There has always been a pushback by people who hold power against relinquishing that power. If you look at who is in power, it is mostly white men. Now, as they see it slipping away, or as other people become empowered, they are ramping up the dirty tactics.

As someone who has been on both sides of it, how do you suggest that a civil society with a Bill of Rights that protects speech and the press should effectively deal with hate speech, racist incitement and neofascism? How do we strike a balance between preserving our freedoms but also aggressively tackling this problem?

That's a tough one. We must do a better job of preventing future generations from finding what you describe as a viable option. All we can do right now is fight our way through it and hope that we survive.

Ultimately, what we have to do is hold people accountable. I'm talking about criminals, not people who are just saying things. We have a hard time holding criminals to account for the crimes they've committed. Just last week, Brandon Russell, one of the founders of a white supremacist terrorist group, Atomwaffen Division, was released from prison after four years, and this is after investigators found illegal guns and bombmaking material in his apartment. There are probably people in prison longer for marijuana, and this guy, for plotting to overthrow the U.S. government with a mass casualty event, is free.

It is hard to cut the head off the snake, because we are fighting this war against extremism the same way we fought the war on drugs. We are arresting and going after a lot of addicts, instead of going against the smugglers that are enabling the problem.

To round that out, we also learned this week that the FBI had been supporting Joshua Sutter, a confidential informant who was a white supremacist for 18 years. They paid him over $100,000. This is a person who still today is publishing white supremacist books and other materials, and those materials are used to radicalize people into joining Atomwaffen Division. So here is our own government actively funding someone who is working to radicalize people. That's a problem.

How do we expect to defeat white extremism if their coffers are being filled by the people who are supposed to protect us? When I say that we are in for darkness because we aren't taking the right approach to combat extremism, that is exactly what I am talking about. First, we have to take care of that problem. Then we can have the tougher debate on what we do about hate speech.

I am also more of the mind that we need to do a better job of raising our children. Give them all the information that they need to succeed, and when they become adults, provide them with services like health care, like higher education — all those services we make difficult for people to access. In some cases, the only way people feel they can find agency is by joining hate groups, because they are the only ones who seem to pay attention to them, to listen to their problems. It is, of course, a toxic environment, and what they are getting is not positive interaction, but they are gravitating to these groups because they are getting something that they should be getting from society instead. So we should be thinking about how we lay a foundation under young people so that joining a hate group doesn't even seem like an option, and so that what they offer is never attractive.

That brings us to your story, and your organization, Free Radicals. There probably isn't a massive group of people who have a family member or friend who is in a hate group. But many people know someone in QAnon or someone who has taken an ideologically dark turn. For the sake of them, can you talk about what Free Radicals does, and also address the steps to de-radicalize people?

The Free Radicals Project is a nonprofit organization that I founded to help people disengage from hate groups. Yes, you are accurate when you say that there aren't many members of hate groups. Now, most people with the hateful mindset aren't card-carrying members of the Klan. That's part of how things have shifted in the last 20 to 30 years. It is less about the group and more about the movement. There is a coalescence into the general movement. What we do is work with people directly who are in these movements, and we recognize that they don't know how to disengage. Even if they are feeling doubt, they can't discuss that with their comrades.

As someone who has been there myself, I have the ability to listen. We are guides, and we guide them out. It begins with understanding that ideology is likely not what brought them there. It was a search for identity, community and purpose. What I do is I offer people substitutes for the identity, community and purpose that they've found, and replace them with things that are more positive. We work for ways to replace the identity they found or the community in which they feel welcomed and rewarded.

That process begins with identifying the "potholes" in their lives. Potholes are those things we all encounter on our journey. Potholes are trauma. So, what is the pothole — the trauma — that put them on the road to their direction? Without debating about their ideology, we focus on those potholes and find pothole fixers — therapists, job trainers, teachers, life coaches, hobby groups, anything that can work to build a better foundation under them.

Isn't it true that you received a federal grant, but the Trump administration eliminated it?

My old organization that I co-founded, Life After Hate, applied for and won a $400,000 grant in 2016. We never received the money, because the administration had changed. In December 2016, we were notified by the Obama administration that we won. In the early months of the Trump administration, we were notified that we would not receive the grant. They had reviewed our application and rescinded it. We were the only organization out of 36 that had the grant revoked. We were also the only one that was focusing on white supremacy. All of the others were focusing on Islamist extremism.

That speaks to the larger issue. Earlier, you used the word "terrorist." As you know, FBI statistics show that white supremacy organizations and related hate groups are responsible for more murders of Americans than any other extremists since 9/11. We all watched the gruesome and sad footage of Jan. 6. But it still seems that most of white America remains blasé about the terrorist threat of white hate.

Absolutely. That is one of the biggest reasons why we can't combat it. We can't even name it. We refuse to look in the mirror and face that it is other Americans, not foreigners, who are the biggest threat to American democracy. We need to get over that hump, and recognize that these people are terrorists. They are criminals. We need to call them out and hold them accountable as such. My concern is that we don't have the will to call it out.

Is that part of what motivates your new podcast, "F Your Racist History"?

Yes, that was part of it. After 25 years, I've taken it upon myself to try to educate Americans about the world I was part of, because few others were stepping up to do that. I also learned a lot as I was going through my transition. We did an episode on Henry Ford, and I knew about him when I was a Nazi. I knew then that he was a supporter of Hitler. The rest of the world didn't know that. We had a museum about Henry Ford. Every town had a Ford dealership.

So some of the podcast is about things I already knew but few others seemed to discuss, and some of it is what I've learned about American history. It is part of a recognition that if we don't know where we came from, how the hell are we going to measure our progress? And part of it is that if we can't admit that we've been part of this — that we've all been complicit — we aren't going to stop it.

Currently, there is all this hysteria over "critical race theory." Until a few months ago, it was a relatively obscure legal theory taught almost exclusively in law schools. Many polls confirm that most people claiming to have passionate objections to it don't even know what it is. So it is effectively an umbrella term, for those rallying against any instruction of systemic racism and, as you say, "complicity." Why is it important that Americans learn the true history of our country, and why is there so much backlash against that, where they are going so far as to try to ban it in colleges and high schools?

As Americans, as people who tout our democracy, we need to understand what we are preaching. We need to understand where we come from. We should be proud of how far we've come, but we also have to recognize that there are still many people oppressed and excluded due to institutional racism. Until we address those things, we are creating an ecosystem that is breeding racists. As long as there are people who benefit from racism, there will be people who are attracted to it. If we ever hope to make an equitable society, we have to understand the progress but also the ugliness, and also identify all the things that are preventing us from becoming an equitable society today.

White supremacists and the right wing are using "critical race theory" to make white people afraid that their society is going to deprive them, and turn everyone else against them. The irony is that is exactly what they are covering up — that white people, for centuries, have divided people and treated everyone else unequally. They are afraid of the mask being torn off. They are also banking that most people aren't going to do the intellectual work to understand what they are talking about. They will just emotionally buy into it.

I talked earlier about identity, community and purpose — and potholes — as they relate to individuals, but I also think the United States as a country right now is struggling with its identity, community and purpose. We have a whole history of potholes that we've not dealt with, and until we deal with them we are going to keep finding ourselves going off onto the fringe. Right now we are dealing with so much uncertainty relating to the pandemic, politics, jobs, health care, so much else. Well, uncertainty is the one ingredient that allows extremism to thrive. So we are in a very dangerous position. We are on a tinderbox. We have to be really vigilant about dealing with it.

Could genocide really happen here? Leading scholar says America is on 'high alert'

Even the title of Alexander Laban Hinton's new book provides a chilling summary of the current danger facing this nation: "It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the U.S."

This article first appeared in Salon.

Hinton is one of the world's leading authorities on genocide and atrocity crimes. He is the author of 12 books on the subject and directs the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University. He testified as an expert witness, at the trial of Nuon Chea, who was prime minister of Cambodia during the genocidal tyranny of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

With sober analysis and in assiduous detail, Hinton explores the ways the United States is "simmering at a low boil," and evinces every risk indicator for widespread mass atrocity crimes. White supremacist organizations and armed militias are mobilized for political action, the Republican Party has declared war on multiracial democracy and right-wing voters have become increasingly radical and hostile, falling into the personality cult of Donald Trump and the apocalyptic cult of QAnon.

As historian Timothy Snyder, philosopher Jason Stanley and former Republican insider Mike Lofgren have also warned, the U.S. is teetering at the edge of fascism. With "It Can Happen Here," Hinton brings his knowledge and experience to bear on a dynamic history of the Trump administration — taking his readers inside his classroom, to white power rallies and to his own testimony at the Chea trial. One of the book's strengths is its accessibility. Written with literary style rather than in dry academic prose, it makes for fascinating, albeit deeply disturbing, reading.

Alarming but never alarmist, Hinton provides a chilling introduction to genocide studies through a chronicle of his travails during the Trump years. The echoes of historical genocide are impossible to miss in contemporary American politics.

Most Americans undoubtedly prefer to think of the United States as immune to the forces of history, and above the various forms of political violence and societal collapse that have affected every populated continent on the planet at one time or another. Hinton is here to tell us that kind of passivity and apathy is all too likely to create the conditions for historic catastrophe.

I recently interviewed Hinton by phone. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

You gave your book the title, "It Can Happen Here." You are, of course, playing off Sinclair Lewis' classic novel, "It Can't Happen Here." Like Lewis, you are combating the illusion of American exceptionalism, the idea that freedom, democracy and progress toward equality are almost like laws of nature. In fact, you make the argument that "it" has already happened here. Can you explain how the belief that "it can't happen here" is historically wrong?

I think of two contextual blockages that prevent us from grappling with our past, and the present that is informed by it. One is what you just named, "American exceptionalism," the "not us" idea. You know, "this is America and it can't happen here." We get this over and over again. The corollary to that is "not me." That's the idea, "Oh, it's a bunch of crazy racists over there. I have nothing to do with that." From "not me," we get the "bad apples" idea. I spend a lot of time in the book addressing the fallacy of "bad apples" and "the hater" — the isolated villain. The danger of these concepts is that if we allow people to believe that "not us" and "not me," they will soon think, "Well, then it's not my problem."

To the second part of your question, that was how the project began. I was testifying in the trial of Nuon Chea right as Trump was riding into power. Many people were making analogies between Trump and genocidal leaders. As someone who studies these things, I am always wary of direct historical analogies. I think of them more as echoes, or patterns that take place, and we can look for a manifestation. For example, if we look at the history of fascist ultra-nationalism, there are many echoes with the Trump administration. I started noting the echoes, and then we got to Charlottesville. That was when I felt it was necessary to take it on, and bring to bear an analysis of the risk and danger of mass violence.

That begins with a long journey through the specific lens of genocide studies, and a genocide-driven revisionist look at the United States, which leads us through settler colonialism and the connection between the need for land and need for labor, which sets everything in motion. I also teach about atrocity crimes. We're talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Indian Exclusion Act, what happens when we push Native Americans further and further west and, of course, systemic white supremacy. Oddly, now the latter is being pushed through the frame of "critical race theory." I don't use that language, but I'm certainly familiar with the literature. When I began writing the book, few people were having these conversations, and now they are commonplace. The speed with which the discourse has changed is remarkable.

When it comes to the writing itself, you made an interesting choice. Rather than writing this book as an academic treatise, you use literary techniques to establish a chronicle, taking us inside your classroom as your students react to events such as Charlottesville. You take us to your testimony, and even attend a white power rally, reporting on it almost as a journalist. Why did you decide to approach the book that way?

I was trained to do academic writing, but over time, I grew increasingly dissatisfied with that form of writing. With this particular book, however, it wasn't so much a pre-planned strategy as much as it emerged out of the context of what I was writing about. I wanted to directly confront the issues, in one sense. The classroom was an effective setting, because what is teaching about, if not critical thinking and searching for the truth? Here we are in the midst of a time when the very basis of truth is called into question, which is another echo of genocide studies, especially if you think about Holocaust denial. Also, with the students I am teaching at Rutgers, this is their lived reality. Most of them are Black and brown, and the events of the Trump years were having a powerful effect on them. That was another aspect that made me think I should take the readers into the classroom.

I also wanted to write a ground-level history of the Trump administration, while we were facing the risk of atrocity crimes. Little did I know that it would get even worse, because I finished the book before Jan. 6. So I wanted to capture what it was like to live in the middle of this heightened crisis, and not from the White House or another institution of power, as most history is told, but at the ground level. Through reporting on the classroom and my students, I could also write an accessible history of white power mass atrocities in the United States, and that became the narrative thread.

My goal was to write a book that could actually be used by high school students in genocide education. To write with narrative engagement and clarity makes it more accessible to that audience. Many states, including mine, which is New Jersey, mandate some Holocaust or genocide studies. The chapter I write on the Charlottesville teach-in, for example, could be pulled out and used in a high school classroom.

Yes, and you consistently make excellent use of Theodor Adorno's admonition: "The premier demand upon all education is that Auschwitz not happen again." You're attempting to rise to that challenge, bringing your analytical apparatus to bear on the Trump administration and the radical right-wing movement within the United States, offering your expertise as a genocide scholar and anthropologist. The ultimate question, then, is about the current threat of the United States descending into mass atrocity crimes. How do you assess that, and on what do you base that assessment?

The United Nations has a good means of risk assessment, using a few key clusters of risk indicators. One factor is a history of mass atrocities. Well, that hasn't gone away. That's always there. If you think about it as a kettle on a stove, there's always a little bit of heat with that risk factor.

Another risk factor is "upheaval," and before I get into that, because it is really important, you have these other things that the UN calls "buffers." Well, Trump eroded the buffers throughout his administration. You can read about what he did to the Justice Department, and how he marginalized anyone who tried to push back on him. Many democratic practices and norms, which we thought were really strong in the United States, were quickly eroded.

Then, you have "catalyst." OK, guns. The U.S. is awash in guns, and we have armed groups becoming more active throughout the country.

Now, back to "upheaval." We had a pandemic. Then you bring in economic collapse. Then you bring in presidential incitement of militias and armed groups. Then you bring in increasing polarization. We have this incredible mix of factors.

The book finishes in July 2020, and to return to the kettle on the stove, we were at a high boil at that point. I wrote an op-ed around that time, headlined, "Trump's Helter Skelter," warning that we were in a really high-risk situation. Other experts began issuing the same warning.

If we look at Jan. 6, it is almost remarkable that there wasn't a lot more violence. If there had been, it would have sparked more violence across the country. Also, if we didn't have Jan. 6, and Trump was still on Twitter and social media platforms — he's a master at using these mediums — we would have gone right up to the inauguration with Trump potentially inciting mobs and hate groups, and who knows what would have happened? Trump losing Twitter was a defusing of the situation.

So, moving forward, Biden comes in. We have a strengthening of the buffers, the pandemic is improving and the economy is improving. That takes things down from the rapid simmer, but what is worse is the lingering polarization and the belief that Biden is illegitimate. This overlaps with the GOP now having white grievance as its default issue.

We have the high-alert danger posed by extremist groups — white power groups, militias. Now, let's imagine that Trump gets access to Twitter, or another dynamic social media platform and things can move in a very dangerous direction, very quickly.

On the subject of buffers, the Republican Party, along with its propagandists in right-wing media, are waging a war on electoral politics.

Of course. That's incredibly dangerous, and you have the potential for counterprotesters directly confronting white power extremists. We have gone from Charlottesville, which was a collection of small extremist organizations gathering together, with the militias claiming they were there only to keep order, and then we move to Trump announcing, "Stand by, Proud Boys." With that comment, the militias are highly agitated and mobilized, and move from "keeping order," or so they claimed, to becoming directly active.

You also have white Christian fundamentalists, which we saw clearly during the January insurrection, agitated and mobilized. You also have the "Stop the Steal" people very upset and feeling increasingly desperate. Then, we have QAnon, which went from barely existent at the time of Charlottesville to a movement of millions strong. To add one more piece, we have this long documentary record showing that, among the general public, 10 to 15 percent have white supremacist sympathies. That's a lot of people. Then, we have Fox News increasingly taking the white nationalist line in their broadcast. Even today, CNN and MSNBC are talking about COVID-19, and Fox is talking about Black and brown crime in the inner cities, and the "invasion" of immigrants that everyone should fear.

In January 2021, the risk was really high. It has subsided with the Biden administration, but we are still at a low boil. It's not a good place to be.

How crucial was it that Trump, using the bully pulpit of the presidency and with the full support of the Republican Party, provided encouragement to these hate groups? It seems to have functioned in two ways. It strengthened them. But also it ushered them into the mainstream of right-wing politics, and allowed average Republican voters to excuse or even embrace them. Robert Pape, one of the country's leading researchers on terrorism, found that most of the participants in the insurrection of Jan. 6 were not connected to hate groups.

That's exactly what I'm talking about. At the time of Charlottesville, it is a small group of extremists. They are savvy on social media, but appear as if they are on the fringe. By the time we get to January of 2021, the white nationalist movement is millions and millions strong. So what was a shock to some people, when you look at Pape's study, was not a surprise, because it had been a trend for a long time. The swelling of support for Trump has not gone away. Perhaps it has dissipated at the edges, but it is still tens of millions of people who are enraged, and that includes far-right extremists, but also QAnon, which is a lot of things, but a key piece is "Deep State," globalists, antisemitic tropes. So QAnon can have synergy with far-right movements, and it is massive.

Think back to Sinclair Lewis. He looked around in the 1930s, and he saw that millions of people were listening to Father Charles Coughlin. There were the Silver Shirts, which were the U.S. equivalent of Brownshirts. If we look around now, it is very similar to what Lewis saw.

We are in a different cycle, but one that is highly volatile. If Trump can return to a dynamic social media platform, or if his former campaign strategist, Jason Miller, can succeed with the social media platform that he has created, that is the ingredient that can escalate the crisis.

Returning for a moment to Trump, Fox News and the "white nationalist line," you make Trump's appropriation of the snake parable central to "It Can Happen Here," even placing that image on the cover of the book. It tells the story of a woman who accepts a wounded snake with "colored skin" into her home, nurtures it to health, only to have it kill her with a venomous bite. As she is dying, the snake mocks her: "You knew I was a snake when you took me in." Trump recites this story to audiences at nearly every rally. Why do you view this story as pivotal to understanding Trump, the white power movement and right-wing politics more broadly?

It embodies the idea of "white genocide." It embodies the idea of Black and brown invaders. Before Trump would recite it, he would frame it as saying, "I'm talking about immigration." In the 2016 cycle through his presidency, this is a clear metaphor of "white genocide" invasion. The snake traverses the domestic boundary of the home, manipulates the innocent woman, who symbolizes white purity. There is a big trope in white-power discourse that is very patriarchal, with white women in need of protection by white men from the dangers of other races. So, in the story, the woman is bitten and dies. The Black and brown invaders kill whiteness, according to the metaphor.

Trump recited the snake parable the same day that I testified in the Nuon Chea trial, and this is the exact same language that he used, and that authoritarian leaders, demagogues and hate leaders use, about external enemies threatening the body politic. There are notions of contamination, and that the body politic will be destroyed if they don't take extreme action.

I was stunned to learn that the Khmer Rouge discussed nearly the same story, about a crocodile.

Yes, the crocodile, which was the metaphor for the Vietnamese. Also linked to Trump, and common in these regimes, is language of "enemies lurking within." If you remember, former Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican from Arizona, to his credit, took to the Senate floor to point out that Hitler, Stalin and Mao all derided journalists and critics as "enemies of the people." Donald Trump, as president of the United States, did the exact same thing.

There is also an antisemitic thread that runs through all this, because Jewish allies of Black and brown people are often the "enemies of the people." In terms of the snake, there are many depictions in white power literature of the Jewish people as snakes. A big part of Trump's constituency is Christian fundamentalists, and of course in the Bible the snake is representative of Satan. So the snake has many different valences.

This is why the book begins with the snake, but ends with Toni Morrison's bird. Morrison tells the story in her Nobel Prize address of an old, blind woman confronted by young men. One of them taunts her by saying, "I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead." The woman takes a long pause, and then answers, "It is in your hands." Morrison explains that the blind woman "shifts attention away from assertions of power to the instrument through which that power is exercised."

Rather than distilling everything down to the snake point of view, which is overwhelming, hegemonic terms of power, we have to listen to multiple voices, and consider multiple possibilities.

GOP insider urges harsh crackdown on GOP zealots who should be crushed and banished

Republican officials at the highest level support insurrection, terrorism and treason. They have presided over a political culture that, for many years, has inculcated seditious desires within millions of expertly programmed citizens. The consequences became manifest on Jan. 6 when a rabid mob of neo-Confederates, fascists and associated psychotics took the Capitol by force, perhaps hoping to murder duly elected members of Congress — not to mention the vice president — and install Donald Trump as dictator.

This article first appeared in Salon.

As surreal as that summary of recent events might seem, it was not entirely unpredictable. Mike Lofgren, a former Republican congressional staff member of 28 years, began warning about the danger of the GOP in 2011, even going so far as to condemn his longtime party as a "death cult." Before his retirement, Lofgren worked in both the House and Senate as a specialist staffer for national security affairs, tasked with analyzing Pentagon budget requests and preparing military-related legislation.

Lofgren's formal training, not incidentally is as a historian. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Akron, and went on to study European history on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Bern and the University of Basel in Switzerland.

The unique combination of Lofgren's historical expertise and his long career in the "boiler room" of legislative politics, as he calls it, put him in the perfect position to see the destructive monstrosity that Republicans and their far-right allies have created. He has detailed his analysis and experience in two books, "The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted" and "The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government."

With that latter title, by the way, Lofgren was not gesturing toward the conspiracy-theory delusion currently popular among Trump supporters. Rather, he meant "deep state" as an umbrella term for the lobbying firms, corporate donors and military-industrial complex that have a stranglehold on American public policy.

I recently discussed the insurrection at the Capitol, how best to combat right-wing extremism and the future of the Republican Party with Lofgren in a phone conversation, lightly edited here for length and clarity.

We'll start with the obvious. What was your gut reaction as you watched the act of domestic terrorism — the siege of the Capitol — live on television? Now that you've had time to process it, what is your interpretation of the event both in terms of what happened and how the United States should proceed?

I worked for three decades in Congress. Regardless of how peeved I might have been over some policy or another, I was proud of my public service. To see the place trashed like that, and I mean really desecrated — there were people shitting on the floor, and smearing it on the walls. The insane violence of a mob beating a cop with a fire extinguisher and shoving him down the marble stairs was horrifying. At the same time, once the mob was dispersed, they went throughout the D.C. metro area randomly beating up people whom they could victimize. Later that afternoon, my daughter, who does not live in D.C. but in Arlington, across the river, was out walking her dog, and saw these thugs spewing out of the Metro station like toxic waste. She had to do a 180. Arlington was placed under curfew that night. All these occurrences, including having to worry about my own family's safety, left some pretty vivid impressions, to say the least.

In terms of the larger picture, at least three allied European intelligence agencies believe that Trump fomented the mob because he could not get the military to assist him. They have suggested there was at least some degree of collusion with federal law enforcement. Given how fast the Capitol Police chief resigned and left the building, there's some credence to that. Second, that view is reinforced by a former senior official on Trump's National Security Council — Fiona Hill, whom everyone should recognize from the Russiagate testimony she gave. She believes that Trump was consciously trying to trigger a coup using the military, and that the intervention from 10 former secretaries of defense may have prevented it.

We now know that the Republican Attorneys General Association sent out robocalls the day before, encouraging people to descend on the Capitol. Republican dark money financed the rioters, gave them bus tickets and chartered the transportation. Dark money is the so-called 501(c)(4) organizations with anonymous donors, that Republicans on the Supreme Court claim is such a wonderful idea for freedom.

Finally, two-thirds of House Republicans voted to nullify the results of legitimate elections that had been recounted multiple times and survived many court challenges. They did this a few hours after the entire place was vandalized and everybody's lives were in danger. A YouGov poll found that 45 percent of Republicans, after the fact, approved of the assault on the Capitol. [In fairness, a more robust ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted this past week found that only 20 percent of Republicans approved.] And now there is new information that extremists plan to encircle the Capitol to assassinate Democrats.

The severity of the threat means that we cannot afford an ineffective response. Considering your experience in government and your wider historical perspective, how do you suggest we react?

It is necessary to see the historical analogies that tell us what works and what doesn't work. The thing that pops into everyone's mind is the Civil War. People tend to get all misty-eyed about Lincoln's statement, "With malice toward none, and charity for all." That was his second inaugural address in March of 1865. What were the results? A couple of weeks later, what he got out of it was a bullet in the head. What Blacks got out of it was Jim Crow. What Confederates got was pardons, amnesties, dropped charges and the ability to rewrite history. The rest of us were saddled with them, and now we have a large portion of the country — a single region that is basically a Third World state.

The Civil War was not a fluke. Weimar Germany is another example. Compared to the devastation that the Germans caused in France and Belgium, the Versailles Treaty was very mild. The gratitude for that mildness was a buildup of authoritarianism in Germany, people in all walks of life thinking that they were victims, the police and the courts going very easy on the perpetrators of the Beer Hall Putsch — a guy named Hitler was involved in that — and the results were not very happy.

Now, let's see what works in these cases. We haven't had much trouble with Germany in the past 75 years, because in 1945, basically, they were treated to a Carthaginian peace — a massive military occupation and a few strategic hangings of the ringleaders. It was assisted, of course, by the fact that the Germans had to be on their best behavior, because they didn't want us to go home, and leave them to the tender mercies of the Russians.

Those examples show you what works, and what encourages people in cases of massive insurrection. Being overly lenient only encourages them.

Lawrence Rosenthal, a leading scholar of right-wing extremism, often gives the same warning. They see liberal society as "weak and flabby," and will interpret any reluctance to act with aggression as confirmation of their central thesis. Then they will push the envelope further. So what is the correct approach?

I agree with him. The approach has to be, first, governmental, with laws and the application of those laws, but also socially, by boycotting and putting pressures on corporations. It is also individual, each person dealing with other individuals. I say this because I've personally confronted the issue. It is important to tell relatives and friends in no uncertain terms, "You can stop invoking Jesus. I sure as hell don't want to hear about Black Lives Matter. You are not a good citizen or a patriot if you continue to vote for these Republicans. I might have to keep your grandkids away from you unless you repent of this. I don't want their young minds poisoned by hatred and violence."

Decent people will have to ask themselves, "Wouldn't you rather have a friend who is not nuts? Wouldn't you rather not have to carefully steer the conversation away from politics so that Uncle Fred doesn't make a scene and ruin Thanksgiving dinner?" You don't need to hang onto relationships with hate-filled or deluded people out of habit or obligation. You can find other friends.

The social media prohibitions are also good. These people crying censorship and free speech have no understanding that you cannot compel a private individual to use his privately-owned platform to broadcast incitements to murder. It is a complete inversion of the First Amendment.

Next, companies cutting off donations is a start. Credit rating agencies should rate these GOP officials, and those who supported the insurrection, at zero. Their social credit is in the trash can. I'm saying that maybe their financial credit should be as well.

We have to guard against hypocrisy and stupidity, however. I saw that Northrop Grumman announced a six-month pause on all political donations to both parties. Unless you specifically target the perpetrators, it makes no sense.

I've learned that the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee [Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi] is demanding that Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz be placed on the no-fly list. See, there are many tools available. Republicans are so fond of antiterrorist laws: I say, let's use them against Republicans who advocated violence. We can use civil and criminal RICO statutes to confiscate the money of GOP organizations that fund violent extremism.

I have been activating old friends on the Hill, and people who have access to various people on the Hill, and proposing that you have to saturation-bomb the Republicans legislatively. You can't make it an either/or with impeachment. You can do impeachment and concurrently have in your back pocket the 14th Amendment, which bans anyone from office who incited insurrection against the United States.

Laurence Tribe did not do us any favors when he said that the person otherwise has to be convicted in a court before that amendment can be applied. A plain reading of the 14th Amendment does not say anything about that. It is a pure finding by Congress that they are committing insurrection, and are barred from holding office. The beauty of it is that it requires only a simple majority in each house, whereas impeachment requires two-thirds in the Senate to convict, and knowing Republicans as I do, we may not get two-thirds. The 14th does require, however, two-thirds to lift the ban and reinstate their right to run for office. So there is a bigger hurdle to relieve them of the ban than to punish them.

All of this is necessary because going easy on these people — holding their hands, giving them a cup of tea and trying to understand them — will not work. They take it as weakness and a sign that they will prevail. If people are supporting violent overthrow of the government, I see no reason — morally, politically or practically — why our society should not ostracize them.

Would you suggest that Democrats initiate the 14th Amendment process against the senators and representatives who voted to overturn the election of Biden?

Concurrently against Trump, and against those who were found to have incited. Whether everybody who voted to object to the results deserves being banned for life, I'll leave that to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi's wisdom. Sarcasm aside, the speaker does not sound amused by any of this, which is refreshing.

You said, "Knowing the Republicans as I do …" Let's get into that. In 2014, you wrote that the Republican Party had transformed into a death cult. In 2018, you wrote a brilliant and, unfortunately, prescient essay for the Washington Monthly in which you predicted that violence and nihilism were waiting at the end of the GOP track. How did this happen with the party? How could the party transform into something so insane?

I suppose it was partly happenstance, and partly my past training as a historian, that I could see this before almost anybody else could. I first wrote about their apocalyptic nature in 2011. Most people looked at me like I was some sort of exotic zoo specimen. Almost no one else was saying this at the time. Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann did say it in a book that came out roughly around the same time. I had the advantage of being in the boiler room, and seeing how the GOP operates. I was kind of an Eisenhower-Gerald Ford Republican. I wasn't caught up in the "movement." I viewed my public service as public service. I wasn't an operative for the party.

I had lived in Europe before working on the Hill, and developed an understanding of what happened there. I began to read philosophers like Sir Isaiah Berlin, who deconstructed conservatism by showing some of these obscure historical figures — everyone knows about Edmund Burke and his supposed moderation — but they forget that the bigger influence on the psychology of conservatives were the radical reactionaries against the French Revolution. Berlin described a kind of violent, anti-modernist, authoritarian, mystical strain in conservatism that often comes to the fore in moments of strain.

He was a philosopher of science, but Karl Popper wrote one of the most impassioned defenses of democracy in an open society in general when he wrote "The Open Society and Its Enemies." He warned that people with this tendency toward absolutism are poison for any kind of rational thinking, and that includes science, as we have recently seen. He condemned extremist systems, whether communism or economic free-market fundamentalism, which translates into CEOs making 500 times what their average employee makes. Popper warned that any system that is deterministic leads to catastrophe.

All of this combined to lead me to conclude that the Republican Party has violent tendencies and a nihilistic outlook — rejection of science, rejection of civil rights, rejection of democracy, rejection of anything that does not allow them to maintain power. They will bring down the country to keep in power.

I observed this over the years from people who are "true-blue constitutional conservatives, patriots who bleed red, white and blue." You get three or four beers in them, and they are singing the praises of Adolf Hitler. It sounds like I am exaggerating, but I've seen it happen.

You mentioned the CEO-average worker salary disparity. One of the arguments to emerge among people outraged over the Trump personality cult and fascist movement is over cause. Some analysts insist it is primarily hatred of Blacks, immigrants and the liberalization of society, whereas others point to economic precarity and increasing levels of poverty and despair as creating the conditions for these antisocial, anti-government extremist movements to grow. Can we keep in mind the latter analysis, while working to crush the fascists?

The economics did contribute. Although you don't want to fall into the trap of saying, "Oh, these guys' wages are falling behind compared to the 1970s, and that's why they are worshipping Trump." That was a myth that the New York Times and all the rest of them swallowed. Support for Trump was racism. More careful polling and research, after the fact, made that clear. That being said, economic precarity does create a social ecology where these kinds of movements more readily catch on. Then it becomes symbiotic.

Economic precarity, referring back to Karl Popper, was not the inevitable trend of a mechanical globalism that operated beyond anyone's power to control it. It was powerful people making conscious policy decisions about how our economy is regulated. They systematically regulated for the benefit of the rich, and everybody else had to be on their own. That's how we got 401k's instead of defined benefits. That's how we got banks making synthetic derivatives out of nonexistent things. That's how we got the 2008 crisis. It is a symbiosis of, yes, the economy is poor, but it is not poor because it fell out of the sky in that form. The people we elected made it so.

Yes, and people can reverse it. But this same radicalized insurgency that you identify, and the party they support, is the main obstruction to that reversal taking place.

Right. There is a huge bad-ideas industry that exists in the country. It is all those 501(c)(3) foundations that churn out these policy proposals: The Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

What happens now with the Republican Party? They've suffered some major defeats. We have an incoming Biden administration. The Democrats will control the House and Senate. It appears that, thanks to Trump and the terrorist siege on the Capitol, their credibility is in free fall. Yet we've been here before. In 2008, political analysts predicted that the Democrats would have a permanent majority. Well, that didn't work out so well. What do you see transpiring in the next few years?

Democrats seem to think that once they elect a Democratic president, they can all go back to sleep. We saw the consequences of that complacency in 1994. We saw it in 2010. During the first term of a Democratic president, you typically get landslides in the midterm against the sitting president. I fear that people could become complacent again. Then, there are many on the progressive left who think that their own gullibility is worldly-wise cynicism. They'll say: "Oh, it's just death by poison or death by hanging — the two parties are really the same." Well, they're not. They're making the same mistake as the far left in Weimar Germany, their delusion that the Social Democrats were the same as the Nazis. Don't kid yourself. Even a decadent status quo is better than living in a combination of Kim Jong-un's North Korea and anarchic Somalia.

People should talk to Trump-supporting parents or uncles and aunts over the age of 65: What did you think you were going to get out of this? What was in it for you? If those rioters succeeded in overthrowing the government and installing Trump as dictator, do you think you'd continue getting your Social Security and Medicare? If a tornado knocks over your trailer, FEMA is not going to give you a check.

Whatever your criticism of the Democrats, they are for sanity. They are for the rule of law. You are better advised to vote for them than for fascists.

Here’s why the arrogance of ‘centrism’ may destroy us all

The philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." One insight to draw from Santayana's oft-repeated aphorism is that the repetition of clichés is likely to have little effect, given the widespread tendency to ignore pithy advice and continue witlessly recycling, recreating and reliving history.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Over the past few weeks, the Republican Party has proven itself hostile to freedom and democracy; its merciful incompetence the only thing saving whatever remains of our republic from the fascist insurrection of a con man. The absurdity of the cast members — from Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell to their incoherent Michigan "witness" and of course Donald Trump himself — have made the entire fiasco seem more like a satirical film than political reality. At the other multiplex on the Democratic side of town, every screen is running previews for the third version of a box office smash, "Centrist Failure," with Joe Biden taking over the leading role from his more charismatic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

The 1990s original had audiences entranced by a seductive Southerner, Clinton, who under the guidance of the Democratic Leadership Council rebranded his party as the "new Democrats," which apparently translates into "Republicans." Clinton cut social programs, ended "welfare as we know it" by making single mothers work low-income jobs without child care, signed a massively destructive and draconian crime bill into law, deregulated the financial industry, and approved NAFTA. Democrats throughout the mediocre commentariat largely applauded, on the grounds that right-wing policies with a friendlier face were the only way Democrats could win or maintain power, and prevent another Reagan-like figure from seizing control of the country.

After all, they asked, wouldn't you rather have Clinton, with his paeans to social liberalism, administrative proficiency and obvious intelligence, than George H.W. Bush? Sure — but then along came Bush's son, holding the White House door open for the ghoulish likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and proving himself far worse than his father. Two horrific wars, the criminal ineptitude of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crash created fertile conditions for radical reform, but instead the "hopey-changey" Obama administration committed the first error of national politics. They failed to act on the keen insight of the aforementioned Cheney, who once told a defiant Republican senator, "We don't negotiate with ourselves."

Obama clearly enacted policies that improved American life. The Affordable Care Act rendered an ongoing catastrophe somewhat less deadly, he doubled Pell grants (barely keeping pace with exorbitant tuition spikes), signed the Paris climate accords and negotiated a decent nuclear deal with Iran. He also staffed his Cabinet with corporate sycophants, allowing the same banking and high-finance bandits who had liquidated working-class wealth to manage the "recovery"; dropped the "public option" from his health care proposal without a fight; and spent years attempting to reach compromise with an obstructionist opposition that he eventually admitted — rather too late — had no interest in productive policy and governance.

Obama was inarguably better for the country than a potential McCain-Palin administration would have been, let alone the planned corporate tyranny of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. But throughout his two terms in office, Democrats lost countless state and local offices, while obliviously arguing that demographic changes all but guaranteed their permanent ascension to power — a great victory that somehow always lies just beyond the horizon. Performing a cover version of the Clinton composition, mainstream politicians and pundits also insisted that any openings to the left would provoke a vicious backlash, manifesting in a menacing right-wing resurgence. In other words, if Obama had governed as a progressive, someone like Donald Trump might have become president.

A rational observer might assume that the victory of a reactionary psychopath who upended all normative assumptions about politics would have introduced a little humility and introspection into the centrist consensus. That observer had best not hold her breath.

Biden hasn't even taken the oath of office, and the centrist crew, including Obama and Biden himself, are blaming the left for Democratic losses in the Senate, House and state legislatures, citing the activist call to "defund the police" as the primary reason for the party's poor down-ballot performance. There is no data to support this conclusion. If anything, the available evidence actually suggests that candidates with progressive positions outperformed the so-called moderates.

Lack of evidence has never stopped the centrists before. Now they've reached a point where information is an unnecessary impediment to their effort to overwhelm all legitimate political or ideological debate with a mélange of platitudes and bromides.

John Harris, writing in Politico, chastises the "stupid second guessing of Biden" from the left over his corporate Cabinet choices, focusing closely on the early opposition to the potential appointment of former Chicago mayor and Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Harris claims that progressives "don't know what they are talking about," and then attempts to prove Emanuel's merits by summarizing a book he co-wrote in the 1990s. He never mentions that Emanuel left Chicago as the most hated mayor in the city's long and colorful history, earning contempt for closing dozens of schools in poor neighborhoods and then covering up video footage of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager, which eventually sent the officer involved to prison.

Joe Klein, the former sage of Time magazine and champion of "radical centrism," shared Harris' article on his Facebook page, acting as if he had received it from the hands of Jehovah on Mt. Sinai. When I reminded Klein of the McDonald murder, observing that the country's leading civil rights organizations and labor unions opposed Emanuel, Klein responded that I was "missing the bigger point."

Centrists are always threatening to make a big point, but never follow through. Here is the big point that they've been missing for 40 years: The neoliberal consensus is disintegrating, taking traditional party politics into oblivion, because the policies on which it was built have devastated the lives of ordinary people. Widespread privatization and the elevation of what Karl Marx called "fictitious capital" — interest, stocks and commodities, dividends and incomprehensible financial instruments of many kinds — have transformed an economic arrangement that, for all its flaws, gave at least some working-class people a chance to build stability and generational wealth into a Serengeti Plain where the powerful use their fangs and claws to rip the flesh from the weak.

The RAND Corporation — hardly an advocate of socialism or Marxism — recently reported that from 1975 to 2018, the top 1 percent, taking advantage of tax policies, corporate welfare and other built-in benefits, took in $47 trillion — that's trillion, with 12 zeroes – that otherwise would have been distributed among the bottom 90 percent.

Naomi Klein explains brilliantly in her book "The Shock Doctrine" that catastrophes and crises typically exacerbate inequality in various ways: They offer multinational corporations an opportunity to force out small competitors, convince governments to deregulate or surrender public land and other areas of the commons, and accelerate urban gentrification and residential segregation. It is hardly surprising then that COVID-19 has only enhanced these hideous developments. According to one report from the Center for Public Integrity, 900 companies that accepted billions in Paycheck Protection Program loans still laid off a cumulative total of 90,000 workers.

American life, for most citizens, has become a never-ending struggle, with essentials like health care, child care, and high-quality education all but inaccessible. As a recent report from NPR made clear for those sitting in the back, even many Americans who appear to have it made in the shade, earning relatively high salaries and owning substantial homes, still live paycheck to paycheck, frightened that an unexpected expense will drown them in debt.

There's "stone cold rage in the hinterlands," Warren Haynes shouts in the Gov't Mule song, "Stone Cold Rage," capturing the way that entire American towns have collapsed into conditions that resemble war zone. Small villages that once had a vibrant communal center made possible by family farming, light manufacturing employment and small retail business have become ghost towns, without much hope for middle-class or even working-class resurrection. In a previously unprecedented and horrific development, "deaths of despair" — primarily meaning those caused by suicide, drug overdose, alcoholism and obesity — began to rise in the United States a few years ago, especially among men in rural areas.

The inhabitants of these desolate and deprived outposts have accepted a theory, albeit a terrible and dangerous one, to explain their demise. Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist who spent five years conducting lengthy interviews with poor people in the Louisiana bayou, summarizes it this way:

Think of people waiting in a long line that stretches up a hill. And at the top of that is the American dream. And the people waiting in line felt like they'd worked extremely hard, sacrificed a lot, tried their best, and were waiting for something they deserved. And this line is increasingly not moving, or moving more slowly [i.e., as the economy stalls].
Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women, refugees, public sector workers. And even an oil-drenched brown pelican getting priority. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be waving these people (and the pelican) ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people who were cutting in line and pushing the people in line back.

Hochschild is not seeking to excuse the obvious racism embodied in this narrative, or to deny its pervasive influence on whites who support Donald Trump and other xenophobic Republicans. She only explains that nearly everyone she interviewed articulated some version of this "deep story," to use her words — "a story in which you lift away facts and moral judgment and just find the story that feels true."

A massively funded apparatus of creative thinkers and skillful personalities inundate voters with right-wing propaganda on a daily basis, creating an alternative universe in which "facts and moral judgment" drift away to make room for the hateful scapegoating of all the people Hochschild identifies above.

What is the centrist "deep story" that might respond to this? Is there even a centrist hypothesis to explain and alter the continual decay of American life?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently courted the scorn of centrists for stating the obvious by calling Biden's vision for the country "hazy." None of the attacks on her even tried to offer an alternate assessment of Biden's prospective agenda. Of course there is time for the incoming president to communicate with more clarity and specificity, but progressives in Congress are only expressing the reasonable concern that 20 months after Biden announced his presidential candidacy, no one can honestly describe his overarching vision for governance, reform and public policy.

The progressive or leftist politics that Ocasio-Cortez represents at least offers Americans, especially those who suffer from poverty and despair, a "deep story." The leftist deep story has the benefit of being true. It doesn't require adherents to overlook relevant facts or suspend all moral judgment. It makes no room for racism or nativism. Instead it accurately surveys the reality on the ground, from the South Side of Chicago to the swamps of Louisiana, and offers real, actionable solutions, which double as an effective counterargument against the nationalism of the fast-rising far right.

As psychiatrist Jonathan Metzl demonstrates in his book, "Dying of Whiteness," many white people in "heartland" America are so deeply committed to "racial resentment" that they will actively vote and fight against their own access to medicine, education, clean air and better wages. Many of the poor people Metzl interviewed essentially took the position that it is preferable to starve than to endorse policies that might better the lot of Blacks or "illegal immigrants."

Of course progressives shouldn't assume that they will convert Trump followers to democratic socialism with a few Bernie Sanders speeches and John Mellencamp records. They may, however, begin to shift some political support with active and aggressive engagement throughout the country, explaining exactly why their "deep story" is better than racial inculpation and division.

As for the centrists, they guarantee failure, offering exactly nothing other than their own arrogance and provably false prescriptions to ordinary people confused and outraged over the decline of their communities and the precarity of their own lives.

Centrists insist that "moderation" is the only sensible approach to national politics in a large and diverse country. They might have an argument worthy of consideration if the world's problems were moderate. But the impending climate apocalypse is not moderate, nor is the dramatic and worsening economic inequality, on a scale not seen since the Gilded Age. Those things cannot be addressed with compromises or half-measures.

Centrist equivocation will only alienate Americans from each other, while emboldening the forces of right-wing extremism, ignorance and hatred. From the 1980s onward, through recession, war terrorism, and ecological catastrophe, this story has repeated itself time and time again. How many times will the "sensible" centrists have to watch the country descend into chaos before they learn its lessons?

Trump's delusions and conspiracies are only one aspect of the distinctive American bias against reality

On this holiday, millions of Americans are gathering around a homemade feast of comfort food, basking in the warmth of familial love and giving each other a potentially life-threatening virus. One week ago, Erin Burnett asked during the lead segment of her nightly talk show on CNN, "The CDC is warning Americans not to travel or gather in large groups for Thanksgiving. Will they listen?"

Keep reading... Show less

'Law and order' is a debased concept used to cover up right-wing crime and depravity

Mark Twain's instruction to curious residents of Freedom Central is, by now, familiar: "If you want to see the dregs of society, go down to the jail and watch the changing of the guard." There is little doubt that the corrections officer who beats and torments the inmates under his supervision would use the phrase "law and order" as a defense for his own lawlessness. Almost any usage of that loaded term in American civic discourse serves as qualification for membership in a diner's club of hell.

Keep reading... Show less

America's indifference to death is nothing new -- but it's made this crisis much worse

American culture has always demonstrated a callous indifference to death. At our nation's inception, its triumphant rhetoric of equality and democratic revolution excluded any acknowledgment of slavery, or the genocide conducted against its Native population. Over the past two centuries, America's history of uninterrupted war, conquest and exploitation bred into the public too much comfort with the consequences

Keep reading... Show less