(Friends, I think this article by Michael Lerner, "Psychopathology in the 2016 Election," (published a couple of days ago in Tikkun) is a very important piece. Please take the time to read it. My comments and disagreements are in a letter I sent to Micheal, posted below. Your thoughts would be appreciated!)
I generally am in agreement with your analysis, in "Psychopathology in the 2016 Election," of Trump's appeal. This is an excellent piece, and includes a lot of powerful images and argument. Your use of popular media to illustrate your points is terrific. Please consider making it into a pamphlet, perhaps with illustrative photos and graphs. Should you decide to do that, I offer my editing services (no charge) to strengthen it along the lines of what follows.
Substantively, there are two areas that I think are weak, and could be strengthened without detracting from your major argument.
To be a winner in this society requires one to maximize one’s own self-interest, which is often achieved by perfecting the techniques of manipulating others. This is evidenced in ‘reality’ television shows such as The Apprentice, The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, and Survivor that represent a societal assault on generosity and a glorification of selfishness.
The legitimate attempts by liberal and progressive movements to provide well-being and equal rights for oppressed groups were instead described as quests for unfair economic and social advantage, won at the expense of white working-class people whose economic, psychological, and spiritual suffering were the products of these allegedly narrowly focused self-interested groups who didn’t care about the welfare of others.
Here, I think you get it right:
The triumph of selfishness as common sense creates a huge psycho-spiritual crisis and a society filled with deeply scared and lonely people.
Not only do the values of selfishness and materialism that permeate the capitalist marketplace infiltrate people’s personal lives, undermining family stability and causing great distress, but the capitalist society justifies the huge wealth inequalities by convincing people that where they have ended up in the economic struggle of all against all is a function of their own merit—how smart they are, how hard they’ve worked, to what extent they have the personality traits that will ensure their success, etc.
I think these are proper uses of "selfishness," and powerful ones.
I prefer this formulation:
This way of distinguishing selfishness from self-interestedness opens up great opportunities for your case. You now cut yourself off from them.
Here's a story that illustrates my point. When I'm organizing in a low-income, crime-infested, neighborhood, I hear a lot about fear of crime. In response to it, those who can afford to buy external metal doors, bars for their windows, alarm services if they can afford them (which most can't). The problem, of course, is that this approach leaves the streets to the criminals resulting in purse snatchings, car break-ins and muggings. People know that. When I propose they organize themselves to watch over their streets, know their neighbors so that when someone strange goes into a house they know s/he probably doesn't belong in (so call "911"), organize a "block watch" with the local police department, demand increased police protection, etc. I begin with their self-interest--their desire to protect themselves and their neighbors from crime. When they get involved, I can soon get them to support programs for youth--to improve their job opportunities, provide after school recreation programs, etc, etc. But my beginning point is self-interest.
By denying self-interest and conflating it with selfishness, you rob yourself of these kinds of opportunities that are found in community organizing. For that matter, the best of the CIO unions used self-interest as a tool to organize workers into union based on principles of solidarity: "an injury to one is an injury to all", "black-and-white/unite-and-fight", etc.
But since government itself provides ‘objective caring’ in the form of material benefits, but rarely provides ‘subjective caring’ in the form of treating the recipients of government services with a deep sense of respect and appreciation, it’s all the easier for the Right to foster this resentment at government.
I think a term other than "objective caring" would be better. Perhaps "objective benefits". You make yourself vulnerable to "nanny government" critics when you don't need to.
This point that you make:
Particularly in the post-Civil Rights Movement period of the late ’60s and from then on, the Right has addressed American’s underlying psychological pain of alienation and sense that everyone is out for him or herself, and spiritual longing for meaningful lives, by blaming the most vulnerable in our society, those who were seeking to rectify long histories of oppression—African Americans and other peoples of color, then feminists, gays and lesbians, young people, and more recently undocumented workers and refugees. The Right claimed that these groups were responsible for introducing the selfishness and materialism that was corroding societal values and destroying families.
seems like a stretch to me.
The economism you describe here,
Deeply enmeshed in their own religiophobia, people on the Left rarely open themselves to the possibility that there could be a spiritual crisis in American society.
seems overstated to me. I know a lot of liberals, progressives and leftists who now would agree there is a spiritual crisis in the country. Beware of being dismissive of people who otherwise are your natural allies.
Again, in this,
This gets intensified when the Left fails to expose these dynamics to working-class people, instead dismissing white working-class men as inherently racist, sexist, etc.
you make a blanket indictment of "the Left" which is neither helpful to your cause nor, from my experience, accurate.
Many people are sick and tired of the empty promises of centrist politicians on the Left and Right.
is a rather peculiar formulation. If they're centrists, how can they also be on the left or right? Your later use of "moderate middle" is far better.
There are other places where I think you similarly use to broad a brush in criticizing "the Left;" indeed your anger with the Left runs through the piece in ways which, in general, don't serve your case at all. Which isn't to say that a more nuanced version of the point isn't accurate!
As you would expect, I don't agree with this:
We will need a domestic Empathy Tribe—people who have learned the skills of empathic communication and who are willing to go door-to-door in the old-fashioned style of community organizing, but with a very different message than community organizers conveyed in the past.
I think it also reveals an ignorance of what community organizers "in the past" did or conveyed. (See People Power: The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky for a lot more on the point. I co-edited it with Aaron Schutz.)
The fact that you note the absence of your perspective over the past three decades might suggest that there are some errors in how Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are presenting their case. You, instead, seem only to focus on what's wrong with Sanders, et al. Do I sense powerlessness here? I suspect this problem is in your preliminary vision statement, though I have not yet read it.
I think you will find the piece, "How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind", by David Wong, from Cracked, 10/11/16, of great interest. He claims 4,808,922 views. I think we might learn something from him!
Warm Regards, Mike
Mike Miller has had almost 60 years experience as a community organizer. Before founding the ORGANIZE! Training Center in San Francisco in 1972, he was a founding member of SLATE and an SNCC field secretary. In 1967, he directed one of Saul Alinksy's community organizing projects.
(The quote at the top of the
page is by Desmond Tutu.)