Why is moving the Overton Window not mentioned in 2016 election autopsies?
So, there is another major essay trying to understand and explain Trump's victory. In case you haven't seen mention of it yet, I am referring to The Nationalist's Delusion, by The Atlantic's senior political editor, Adam Serwer. It is an excellent, though lengthy read, which reaches the usual conclusion: white Americans are bigoted. The subtitle captures the entire essay quite nicely: "Trump’s supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination."
I agree with much of what Serwer writes, though I am unhappy with how words such as "nationalist" are used in a pejorative sense. Much the same way most establishment media types use the word "populist." I consider myself a nationalist, but what I believe the word means is informed by my reading of Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Carey, etc. When you can use the label "nationalist" for Benjamin Franklin, or Adolph Hitler, or Donald Trump, the word has lost most of its descriptive power. (Just to be clear, Serwer does not mention Franklin or Hitler in his article.)
Serwer's analysis of Trump' s victory is not the first excellent contribution to our post-2016 political discussion. And it will not be the last. I am not providing any excerpts here. Not yet, at least; I could easily violate "fair use" limits. What I want to focus on is what I consider a very worrisome characteristic of almost all the 2016 election autopsy reports I have read so far: None of them consider how the rich have shoved the Overton window so far right through their relentless funding of the conservative movement and the right wing noise machine.
To be sure there have been a steady trickle of books and stories about the role of the Kochs, the Mercers, and other conservative and libertarian money bags.
Serwer raises a crucial point: how much Obama's presidency worsened racial divisiveness in USA. But it is just as crucial to note that this was not caused by Obama or the Democrats. The racial polarization was caused entirely by conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans. I remember how people in deep red areas I visited discussed politics in 2008. There simply was not as much hate, intolerance, and outright bigotry as there is now. Something changed from 2008 to 2016, and I am certain it was the incessant demonizing of Obama and Democrats by the political apparatus wealthy reactionaries have created the past half century. Jeesh, doesn't anyone remember how we used to derisively condemn Republican politicians for "feeding red meat to their base"? Why does no one pause to consider what all that gorging on red meat has done to the polis?
Recall some of the outright lies that have been circulated by Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, Ollie North, and Murdoch's Fox bestiary. Secret FEMA prison camps. Death panels. Obama is going to take your guns away. Obama is going to impose Sharia law. Democrats coddle criminals. Liberals hate America and want terrorists to win.
And now, after 50 years of tolerating the flow of this sewage, you're surprised to find yourself up to your chin in shit?
When has anybody been held to account for ANY of those lies? When has anybody been fined by the FCC? When has a radio or TV broadcast license ever been revoked? When was Murdoch ever investigated as an foreign agent of influence? Why was there never as much opprobrium heaped on Fox and Murdoch as there now is on Putin and RT?
In the classical republican theory that informed the creation of the American republic, it was held that concentrations of wealth are as great a danger to a republic as a standing army. In The Federalist Papers, Hamilton and Madison thoroughly examined the problem of demagogues misleading masses of the citizenry and whipping them into factions actuated by passions instead of reason. Not just these framers, but many of the fellow citizens, not called to high office, closely studied the Roman writers who had recorded the faults and ruin of the Roman republic. Among the most important of these Roman writers was Sallust. The Table of Contents of Thomas Gordon's 1744 translation, entitled, Discourses of Sallust--one of the most read books in colonial America--gives you a flavor what the framers were concerned about:
DISCOURSE I. Of Faction and Parties.
Sect I. How easily the People are led into Faction and kept in it by their own Heat and Prejudices and the Arts of their Leaders; how hard they are to be cured and with what Partiality and Injustice each Side treats the other.
Sect II. How apt Parties are to err in the Choice of their Leaders; How little they regard Truth and Morality when in Competition with Party; The terrible Consequences of all this; worthy Men decried and persecuted; worthless and wicked Men popular and preferred; Liberty oppressed and expiring.
Sect III. Party infers public Weakness; Its devilish Spirit and strange Blindness; What public Ruin it threatens; The People rarely interested in it; yet how eager and obstinate in it, and bewitched by it.
There has to be some way to limit the freedom of speech of the rich. It would be, I think, in much the same way as military officers have their freedom of speech limited. Not through any judicial imposition--though it would probably be useful to explore how to make it easier to bring and win libel suits--but by creating the same intensity of cultural suspicion and intolerance for the rich as there is for military officers saying whatever they want.
The problem, of course, comes down to the role of money in politics. The corrupting power of money is why we have come to detest Democratic Party elites almost as much as denizens of the Republican Party. Mass communications makes it extraordinarily expensive to run modern political campaigns. On the other hand, we have seen in the past few election cycles a number of examples where the financial superiority of a campaign failed to move that campaign into the win column. I like to think this is proof of the resiliency of American citizens clinging to the last vestiges of the founding principle of classical republican public virtue.
Or, more simply stated, more and more voters these days are less accepting of bovine excrement.
Unfortunately, it is now probably too late: it is now likely that it is the bigots and rich reactionaries who will be the pioneers in figuring out how to limit Americans' freedoms of speech and expression. And their targets are not going to be the rich.