Weakened Presidential Timber Chris Christie is not having a good time. But - he does make a good case study to tease out what's underlying the pathology on display here. He may yet be useful to society, if only as a bad example.
And who knows? He's not toast yet. Nixon came back. George W. Bush had failed at almost everything in life before winning first the Texas Governorship and then the White House (by Supreme Court intervention.) Rules for ordinary people do not apply here.
Part 1 of this study looked at how narratives and a failed media corps could turn a petty thug and grifter like Christie into someone touted as a guy who could make government work and cut through partisan gridlock to provide real leadership. (Also, unicorns for everyone!) Part 2 delved into research which puts Christie and those like him into frightening perspective. Part 3 will connect some more dots along those lines. If it's taken more time than parts 1 & 2, it's been because a perfect storm of relevant material has appeared in the last few days. WARNING: Lots of links!
Follow me below the Orange Omnilepticon for more.
Part 2 of this case study had a teaser at the end.
Can you think of another element in American society where high SDO types can thrive? Can you think of an institution that largely operates on authoritarian lines, rigid beliefs, and is hostile to democracy? That often answers to no one and exercises an unhealthy influence on much of American life?The answer has a lot to do with why we are afflicted with Chris Christies.
Free Enterprise, AKA Capitalism and variations on the same is effectively America's State Religion; challenge that orthodoxy at your peril. Part 2 of this case study looked into the Authoritarian mind, leaders and followers. It noted in passing that both religion and politics offer fertile ground for authoritarians. All you need is a bunch of high SDO leader types with a bunch of followers who also rank high on the authoritarian scale. (If you skipped over that part, go back and look at the characteristics of both in Part 2. Double Highs - people who rank high as both Right Wing Authoritarians and high Social Dominance Orientation; they're the ones you really have to watch out for.)
The Business of America Is…Getting Screwed By Business
One could ask why authoritarianism is on the rise, and come up with all kinds of possible reasons. Coincidence is not necessarily proof, but one could look at one other thing that has increased greatly in the last three decades - inequality - and ask some interesting questions. We've looked at two places where high SDO leaders and their followers can come together, politics and religion. There's a third area where high SDO types can thrive.
Business, AKA the Private Sector.
Despite decades of indoctrination and campaigns like those laid out in the Powell memo to promote blind worship of America's state religion AKA the Free Enterprise System AKA Capitalism, it isn't quite the Siamese twin of democracy it's been made out to be. One does not ensure the other. (One need only look at the thriving democracy the People's Republic of China has become since going capitalist and just how free individuals are over there to see how well that article of faith holds up.)
Business is seldom mistaken for a participatory democracy; more often it is based on a hierarchal structure divided between management and labor, owners and employees. Dissent is cause for dismissal. Unquestioning obedience is a premium. The balance of power is always tilted in favor of the top. That workers have any rights at all is only because of a long struggle against sometimes bloody opposition, sometimes at the hands of the very government that supposedly serves them. When capitalists brag how capitalism has raised standards of living like nowhere else in the world, they omit that more often than not, it was despite capitalism, not because of it. People have fought and died to get their fair share of the wealth this country produces. Market forces don't magically make it happen.
Democracy is messy - so many conflicting demands, so many different views to reconcile. The creep of business buzz phrases into other areas of human endeavor is insidious: bottom line, ROI, stakeholders, shareholder value, etc.. These concepts are tools - and sometimes they are the wrong tools for the job. Business likes clear-cut lines of command and control - and ownership. Business does not like dissent or disorder. The mantra heard over and over that "government should work more like a business" is a call to subjugate democracy into a business model. In the 'ownership society' one is either an owner, or is owned.
It's insidious, this creeping financialization of everything. Think how the aims of our educational systems are being defined. Raise a generation of informed citizens? Guide our children to discover who and what they can be? Nurture the next generation of great artists, musicians, scholars? Not just load them up with a 'core curriculum' of facts, but also equip them to think about those facts, observe the world, AND ask the right questions?
Chances are, if you've heard any speeches about reforming education lately, somewhere it always seems to come down to "so our children can graduate with the skills to get those good high-paying jobs." Right - come out as disposable units designed to fill the needs of business. Disciplined, well-behaved, and not likely to stray outside the lines. Or failing that, settle for being consumers. Who also end up owing a ton of money in student loans that will cripple them for years. You'd almost think that was the point of the reforms - more people who owe their souls to the banking system.
Our institutions of higher learning? If you haven't noticed lately, the Big Thing is academic-corporate partnerships. (Because the government can no longer afford to invest in the future. Sorry 'bout that funding kids.) It's a natural fit - providing of course, that that line of basic research, that ongoing study has some kind of commercial pay-off. Real soon now. And meanwhile the football coach has a higher salary than anyone on the faculty.
Pay Lots of Attention To The Men Behind The Curtain
Horatio Alger was a hack (and rumored child molester) who is popularly believed to have created the model of young lads rising from poverty thanks to diligence, hard work, and strength of character. The wikipedia article at the link notes that actually, it was usually through the operation of a chance encounter with some rich benefactor. (Want to get ahead kids? Practice sucking up to wealth and power.)
The modern myth, of the wealthy as job creators who are hero innovators, risk takers, etc. etc. who earned that money through smarts and hard work is hardly more able to bear scrutiny than Alger's fairy tales. Yes, there ARE people who do fit that model - but there are quite a few more who have succeeded the old-fashioned way: inheriting their wealth, marrying into it, gaming the system, rigging the rules, and committing acts that would have ordinary people behind bars. They've created the legal fiction of corporations as citizens. A better metaphor would be corporations as ablative armor, to assume all the risks and pass on none of the consequences while the parties behind them go on to other things with their gains when it all goes pear-shaped.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is practically the bible for the libertarian free marketeers, picturing themselves as the John Galts without whom the U.S. economy would grind to a halt. It is beyond ironic that the picture emerging from behind the curtain is of men at the top who more closely resemble Rand's looter 'industrialists' and their enablers on the political side than the paragon of selfishness (and kinky sex) hiding out in the Rockies. If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged - and they want you to - a more topical comparison would be, they imagine themselves the good-hearted rogue Han Solo when in reality Jabba the Hutt would be a better match.
*NOTE: have successfully resisted temptation to post pictures of Christie and Jabba here side by side.
Consider this confessional from the New York Times, For the Love of Money.
Wealth addiction was described by the late sociologist and playwright Philip Slater in a 1980 book, but addiction researchers have paid the concept little attention. Like alcoholics driving drunk, wealth addiction imperils everyone. Wealth addicts are, more than anybody, specifically responsible for the ever widening rift that is tearing apart our once great country. Wealth addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and the poor and the annihilation of the middle class. Only a wealth addict would feel justified in receiving $14 million in compensation — including an $8.5 million bonus — as the McDonald’s C.E.O., Don Thompson, did in 2012, while his company then published a brochure for its work force on how to survive on their low wages. Only a wealth addict would earn hundreds of millions as a hedge-fund manager, and then lobby to maintain a tax loophole that gave him a lower tax rate than his secretary.Consider how these traders really think about their clients - calling them "Muppets" and deliberately ripping them off. Consider how these banks have perverted programs intended to help people stay in their homes into legalized theft. Contemplate the spectacle as these fanboys (and they're nearly always men) cheer the Wolf of Wall Street.
It’s important to understand what is meant by pathological, or malignant, narcissism. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy."If you go back to Part 2 and compare the description of high SDO Right Wing Authoritarians with the above, the overlap is… interesting.
According to the DSM-IV, the disorder begins by early adulthood and is indicated by the subject exhibiting at least five of the following:
1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance
2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or
3. Believes he is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement
6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his own ends
7. Lacks empathy
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him
9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes
High-SDO people are characterized by four core traits: they are dominating, opposed to equality, committed to expanding their own personal power, and amoral. These are usually accompanied by other unsavory traits, many of which render them patently unsuitable for leadership roles in a democracy:What these particular specimens have that gives them an advantage over other authoritarian leaders is that they can largely dispense with like-minded followers (although they do have them.) They, after all, are the ones who have spent decades polishing up their own messaging machines - they call it marketing, the art of selling people stuff they don't need, don't want, and generally persuading them of things that are not in their interest. The wealth they control makes up for numbers of followers; while religious authoritarians can muster votes, politicians are desperately hungry for the commodities the business SDOs can supply: money and a corporate-owned media machine. And they're not shy about asking for a quid pro quo in return. That's the whole point.
Typically men • Intimidating and bullying • Faintly hedonistic • Vengeful • Pitiless • Exploitative • Manipulative • Dishonest • Cheat to win • Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic) • Mean-spirited • Militant • Nationalistic • Tells others what they want to hear • Takes advantage of "suckers" • Specializes in creating false images to sell self • May or may not be religious • Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
Kevin Drum warns it's only going to get worse; Citizens United money is going to explode. If you want a type specimen for the worst kind of these critters, Andy Kroll's profile at Mother Jones of the DeVos family is a must read. Definitely READ THE WHOLE THING. (But if you haven't got time, Pierce has a quickie on the Koch Brothers that should make the point clear.) And I can't believe I nearly forgot to put in a shout-out to ALEC here.
The religion of Free Enterprise Capitalism is one hell of an authoritarian cult. When was the last time you heard a politician NOT claim to be business-friendly? It just might be because it'd be hitting too close to home. As Bill Moyers makes clear, while serving the interests of the business world is the natural consituency of the GOP, the Democrats have been neatly assimilated by Wall Street as well.
And so it goes, the revolving door between government service and big money in the private sector spinning so fast it becomes an irresistible force hurling politics and high finance together so completely it’s impossible to tell one from the other.
In the face of news about the incredible concentration of wealth in the world, Geonomist has picked up on how completely the media avoids the implications that should be obvious to all. It's not surprising in light of this, how quickly the various local governments were to shut down Occupy Wall Street occupations and demonstrations, once the business community realized ignoring them to death and ridiculing them wasn't working. It was astonishing how quickly and effectively government - which can't do anything right - acted to remove what it had suddenly discovered was a public health threat and a nexus of all kinds of criminal and immoral behavior.
Before Chris Christie was the governor who wants to put all this stuff about race and partisanship, and, uh more stuff behind him so he can lead us forward, he'd already earned his membership among the high SDO leaders of the cult. The connections, as nailbender notes, are byzantine. Can you say oligarchy?
Cashed-In Checks and Imbalances
The founding fathers understood that power unchecked, power unbalanced tends to accrue more and more to itself. They understood the tyranny of government through direct experience with the rule of kings. They'd seen what happened when religion became the handmaiden of the state - and vice versa. Wealth, not so much since so many of them were men of means themselves. And yet, there was that little trouble with a state-blessed monopoly that inspired a beverage fest in Boston harbor...
Going back to Reagan's toxic legacy, one of the worst events was his deliberate destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controller's Union. It accelerated a decline in union membership and political power that had been underway for some time. Many "Reagan Democrats" were union members who'd become … disenchanted with the Democratic Party over issues of racial justice and the Vietnam War - and after 3 decades of prosperity under union-tolerant administrations, they'd forgotten that prosperity was theirs only because unions had allowed them the political power to demand it as their right.
Too, the government has become increasingly reluctant to enforce anti-trust laws, thanks to business-friendly politicians, judges, and court cases. Corporate mergers, consolidations, and buy-outs increased, to the point where today such actions are no longer necessarily driven by any real business need, but rather the profits the financial sector makes from pulling off the deals. This further dilutes the power of ordinary working people as businesses become every larger behemoths, especially when such deals allow contracts to be broken, pensions to be raided, and wages to be 'restructured'.
When a Chris Christie feels free to screw with the lives of thousands of people who had expected to be able live their lives as usual, he's not doing anything that businesses aren't doing wholesale every day.Money Changes Everything
The basic element of democracy is one citizen, one vote. The basic element of capitalism is… money; one dollar, one vote. Take a look at how the 'votes' are currently distributed under capitalism today. Money is power, and high SDO types like power. The problem with governments from the viewpoint of a high SDO type, is that they get in the way of amassing those dollars.
Governments impose taxes and fees, enforce regulations that add expenses and cut profits (What? You want clean air? Drinkable water? Why should I have to pay to clean up my act for your benefit?) Governments have these funny ideas about laws, crime, and punishment too. How's a man supposed to get rich by making an 'honest' living - and who says what I want to do is a crime? (High SDO types have a real problem recognizing any authority but their own.)
The Reagan Revolution was not about more freedom for the vast majority of us, despite the old hack's flowery speeches; it was about more freedom for the high SDO grifters to pile up more money. The smaller government fixation among the right wingers is all about turning the government into a wealth transfer machine, from the 99% into the pockets of the 1%. Matt Taibbi has chapter and verse on how it works. The high SDO types in the business world want it that way.
And there are more of them all the time. From Ayn Randian fanatics celebrating 'job creators' and self-promoting hacks like Donald Trump, to the Wizards of Wall Street, high SDO types are literally in demand. Look again at the defining characteristics of a high SDO authoritarian above, and then look at the people at the center of the financial crash - and the ones still running things. A culture where the future doesn't matter - IBGYBG, where other people are 'muppets' to be ripped off, where enforcement of laws is a joke...
America needs a new State Religion - and fewer Chris Christies. The last installment of this case study will toss around a few thoughts under that heading. Stay Tuned.