Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Republican Gospel of Enforced Virtue


One of the most disfiguring and crippling faults of modern American political economy is the result of American Christianity having been corrupted by prosperity generally and specific business interests in particular. Put simply: most so-called Christian denominations in the United States have turned their backs on the social gospel, and go to great lengths to avoid discomfiting queries into members' livelihoods as usurers, speculators, money exchangers, and other economic predators. It has gotten so bad, I dislike using the words "Christian" to refer to these people, and use "christianist" instead.

The most disturbing example of this is House Speaker Paul Ryan's devotion to the cruel economic thinking of Ayn Rand, which actually once caused Ryan to literally flee a young Catholic trying to give him a Bible while exhorting Ryan to pay more attention to the Gospel of Luke. Ryan claims he is a Catholic, so I harbor a fervent wish that the Pope will send him a message or two trying to instruct Ryan in the ways of actual Christian economic policies. And then threaten to excommunicate Ryan if Ryan persists in trying to shred what remains of the USA safety net in the forms of Social Security and Medicare.

Whatever legislation Ryan and Republicans try to pass, I hope Democrats in Congress try to tack on amendments requiring serious estimates of how many people will die as a result, and creating some means of imposing criminal liability on the authors and proponents of the legislation. After all, some of the Republicans' favorite mantra is that "you have to assume responsibility for your actions," and "there must be consequences."

I want to point out another dimension to the problem posed by the way Ryan and Republicans think. We have reached a point in human history where economic scarcity is not really a problem.  As early as the 1920s, Thorstein Veblen pointed out that businessmen regularly sabotage and limit industrial production to create artificial scarcity and maintain price and profit levels. Any standard economics textbook today defines economics as society deciding how to allocate scarce resources. So standard economics starts off on a wrong foot from the get go.

But our technology today allows us to produce everything we need to support and sustain human life with a fifth or less of our workforce. Now, further advances in robotics and automation are estimated to be displacing another half of the already employed workforce over the next couple decades. What are we going to do with all those unemployed and marginally employed people? I don't see how the beliefs of Paul Ryan and today's Republicans help us to even begin to address this problem.

And there are problems on the Democratic side, also. Big problems. But that's a post for another today. I will leave you with this link, if you want to read about how what Democrats think cripples them also: Poverty Doesn't Need Technology. It Needs Politics.

The Republican Gospel of Enforced Virtue

by Lance Mannion
Thursday morning. December 1, 2016.

Destroying Medicare and Social Security has become a religious crusade for the Republicans. With Paul Ryan it’s a mania.

Yep. Destroy.

Not “reform”.

Not “save”.

Not even privatize, except in the sense that private hands will be in the till, looting the trust funds as they empty.

They’re doing it for everybody’s own “good.”

It’s “good” for the taxpayers and businesses. Saves them money. Nothing more pleasing to the eye of the Lord than one of his children with a tight grip on his wallet.

But it’s “good” for the people who will need both in their old age so they won’t starve or suffer and die rather than see a doctor or the pharmacist or go to the hospital because they can’t pay the bills. Government aid induces moral turpitude. It undermines thrift, removes the need for self-discipline and self-restraint. It encourages dependency and laziness. It discourages individual responsibility while fostering the expectation that others will do for you and the sense that they owe you what you ought to have earned through your own hard work and merit.  Worst of all, it teaches people to put their faith and trust in human beings and human institutions when they ought to be looking to God for strength and hope and salvation.

Happiness, even comfort, are to be found in the next world. In this world, you accept the lot God apportioned to you and are grateful for that.

That God has contracted out the job of apportionment to the rich and their political toadies and henchmen is his business.

So we’re doing this for your own good. To save your souls and your pride and self-respect. After all, won’t you be more satisfied to know you’ve earned your retirement even if it’s a shabby, cold, and comfortless one? Won’t you be prouder of yourself working until you drop rather than making that monthly trip to the bank to cash a check for money you aren’t earning?

The idea that making people suffer and starve is the virtuous and morally righteous course goes back to the first human being who decided he had a right to earn his bread with the sweat of someone else’s brow and realized he had the strength and the will to make that happen.

And it has not always been a solely Republican article of faith. Grover Cleveland professed it without any apparent doubt. Cleveland, the only Democratic President in the seventy-two years between James Buchanan and Woodrow Wilson and the reason there have been forty-four Presidents but only forty-three men to hold the job, was exactly the corrupt tool of Wall Street Bernie’s supporters accused Hillary of being.
As the railway workers cheered their success, Grover Cleveland met with his advisors. The president was a Democrat from New York, with broad support on Wall Street, whose most notable accomplishments were the deals he made with J.P. Morgan and other financiers to stabilize the currency. “I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering,” Cleveland said, when vetoing an emergency farm bill. “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”---from Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned.
No question there are still Democrats who share in the faith, but it’s the Republicans who’ve made it the central tenet of the political catechism.

Of course there’s nothing at all religious in it except for the self-righteous zeal with which they impose it on the body politic. It’s rank hypocrisy. An excuse to do whatever they want to make and pocket gobs of money they didn’t earn all on their own through their individual enterprise and hard work. It’s canned language they can use to explain away their naked greed and justify their social Darwinism. They’ve done a good job of proselytizing. There’s been no shortage of willing converts. The political media seems to teem with them. There are hardly enough loaves and fishes to feed them. How this all developed is the subject of Kevin Kruse’s indispensable One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, but to sum up quickly here, it was a response to the New Deal, an attempt to counter Franklin Roosevelt’s casting the New Deal in a Christian light.

Ever since, the Republican party has been devoted to preaching their revised version of the gospel in which Jesus commands the storing up of treasures on earth and the parable of the sheep and the goats is inverted, as if he said “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do for me and my capricious, vindictive, sky-demon father.”

A Christian nation is one in which the hungry starve, the sick go uncared for, and strangers are turned away, all for their own blessed good.

End of sermon.

On the practical political level, the actual saving of Medicare now that Donald Trump will be doing Paul Ryan’s bidding as President depends on political and moral cowards like Arkansas Republican Senator John Bozeman deciding it’s in his best interests. Josh Marshall, over at Talking Points Memo, describes the poor guy’s quandary: This Explains How and Why Medicare Will Live or Die.   more.

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