Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Pro-Deathers And Why We Are Looking For Answers In The Wrong Place

August 7, 2019 – 11:05 am ET 
By Rich Weissman, San Francisco, California (

With the recent series of terrorist shootings, we should be fearful that the national dialogue is focused on the wrong discussion, one that denies us the ability to go forward and address this issue in a meaningful way. Many, including the media, are looking at the psychological underpinnings of these events. Trump and the GOP leadership, along with their followers, have already spoken about the killers’ motives, blaming mental illness, personal isolation, video games and other individual psychological factors which detach the blame and attention from the sociological issues that underly this pattern of hatred and violence in America today. The cause of these terrorist acts goes beyond the psychological profile of killers and cults. Instead, it is based on systemic racism, systemic hatred of the other, and systemic adoration of violence and death, emanating from a deep-rooted culture of intolerance, fundamentalist religion, hyper-masculinity and misogyny in which guns and brutality are viewed positively and are seated values emanating from religious, educational, and political belief systems held by many in today’s America and presented by the current Trumpian ideology. It's about a larger pattern of  “pro-deathers” (a term I developed to identify this pattern), a cultural belief system that creates and incites bullying and hatred as normative, with a disdain for civility and a belief that life is not precious. It’s not about the vulnerability of the killers themselves as casualties of personal damage, or recipients of group damage in economic or demographic terms. No, it’s a phenomenon where the LEAST vulnerable groups are the MOST likely to participate in such group terrorist behaviors. That's the point. Terrorism in the U.S. is a white, Christian, heterosexual and male phenomenon, not one stemming from those minority groups who are vulnerable or from social or political groups that are marginalized. It’s white pride, Christian pride, straight pride and male pride. It’s a belief that only the lives of those who are of the majority matter, and those who are otherwise are not worthy of life. And Trumpism has given this culture an avenue and green light for expression.

The harsh reality is that those in power are engaged in terrorism, and that reality is a hard one to internalize, where race, religion, sexual orientation and gender are weaponized by those who are in control of our nation.

We like to think of terrorism as something from the outside and something committed by those without power. But that’s not the case. As with the Nazi concentration camps in WWII Europe, as with the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia, as with the Serbian atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and as with other such locations in which blood thirsty butchery was rampant, these came from the MAJORITY group who was not under attack from the minority, but who believed in a culture of tyranny and violence and who were given a time in history to express that culture. That’s the point. It was an opportunity for nations to turn against themselves through a culture of brutality, a “pro-deathers” culture. We can examine the individuals involved, from Hitler to the men who killed this weekend, but we won't learn anything important, because their psychology is not the driver; rather, the social forces within nations that create a Hitler and a Trump and the like are the drivers, and the killers are simply part of a larger sociological force. That's the danger, and all the chatter about the murderers' psychological profiles and histories are GOP talking points meant to divert attention away from the root cause of this violence. Nazism isn't about Hitler; Trumpism isn't about Trump; and today's American terrorism isn't about these specific home-grown white, Christian, heterosexual males. It's about something much bigger than their individual stories.

They live in a culture of hate which comes directly from their religious, educational, political and normative belief systems. It's who they are as a people, and when given the social climate to express those belief systems, they engage. Hannah Arendt's 1963 book "Eichmann in Jerusalem - The Banality of Evil" shows how otherwise "simple" and "ordinary" people like Eichmann become monsters, not because of their psychological profiles, but because of the cultural values and the social forces in which they live. Simply saying that it's "anger" or “mental illness” personalizes the phenomenon and takes away from the dangerous sociological underpinnings which are at work. It's more than a psychiatric diagnosis; it's a Trumpian culture, it’s systemic, and it’s based on the worship of war, hate, religious extremism, guns and violence. It's pernicious. If we want to understand what drives these horrific acts, look no further than Trump rallies, children in cages, bans on religious minorities, references to those who are different as “animals” and “rat infested,” admonishing those who are of color by telling them to “go back to where they came from,” insisting that schools teach the Christian Bible, spewing hate from the pulpits of many Christian churches, and all of the new normative acceptance of the vile tweets, repulsive talking points and depraved behaviors from those in power, including heterosexual male sexual predatory behaviors which are now no longer beyond the pale of acceptability. That’s the issue.

The deplorable white supremacist, right-wing Christian, anti-LGBTQ, male-dominated culture is on the rise in all forms, and it is all-consuming. It’s no accident and it’s anything but random that mass shootings and hate crimes are typically against African Americans, Latinxs, Asians, Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people and women, and that these are growing exponentially since Trump took office. Our nation is divided, and that divide is along these lines. It's not economic, it's not about specific issues or platforms, and the issue-based arguments (e.g. anti-universal medical care, anti-choice, anti- same sex marriage, etc.) are smoke screens to allow those currently in power and their base to claim a legitimate political position, masking their agenda to create a culture of oppression. It's far deeper and bifurcates the nation into two very different cultures which are fundamentally at odds and which are ultimately incompatible. One treasures life and liberty, while the other treasures death and destruction, willing to step over the bloody corpses in the name of their belief systems that do not value life and reject any of those activities that support life – science, medical care, vaccines, food assistance, minimum wage requirements, housing, education, etc. Their passion is for death to those who are different. Not economic or rational self-interest, just death to those who are different. That's the wake-up call we all need to hear. We need to understand that this is war – a cultural war of opposing values with no middle ground – and until we confront that truth there will be more attacks, and we’ll never reach a point where we can deal with gun violence and civility in a meaningful way. We’re on the path of the Nazis, Khmer Rouge, Serbs and other examples where history took the wrong turn and created cultures that were rotten to the core and engendered the persecution and murder of millions who were not like them. And today, we face a similar crossroad and potential endpoint.

The implications for our 2020 election are clear. We can ignore the sociological pattern and focus on the shooters, and nothing will change, massacre after massacre. Or, we can talk about the cultural war that the GOP, NRA, right wing Christian churches, and the organizations and companies that support them have propagated, not just issues, not just legislation, but how we must eradicate this kind of culture and the belief systems that support it from our society so as to embrace a belief system based on life and liberty. And maybe, just maybe, this group of white, Christian, heterosexual males will own up to the blood on their hands and their roles in this culture of terror, but don’t hold your breath, and if nothing more we can at least silence their voices and effectuate change. With or without them, we need to focus on a new cultural proposition that eviscerates the repulsiveness of the “normal” we now witness.

Friday, April 12, 2019

What Makes For The Most Electable Democratic Presidential Nominee?

April 12, 2019 – 9:33 pm ET 
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

We can agree that “electability” is the single most important factor for the Democratic nominee in the 2020 Presidential race to defeat Trump-Pence. But what determines electability? What are the drivers in Presidential races for the Democratic nominee? Mind you, it’s different for the Republican nominee and different for other offices and elections, including those for Vice Presidents, Governors, U.S. Senators and House Representatives, Mayors, state legislations, and other local races. For these positions, a myriad of factors come into play. But somehow the person who is deemed to be the President of the United States is different, and the determinants of who wins and who doesn’t are unique to that one office and unique to each party presenting a Presidential candidate.

Let’s look at the past 70 years of who won the Presidency, and a clear pattern emerges.  For Republicans, they simply love older – often much older – conventional, white men who are viewed as well-known and “accomplished” (however the Republicans define that – typically by family, status, longevity in upholding the GOP conservative values, wealth, etc.), and whose message clearly appeals to the right. In recent times, they elected Eisenhower, Nixon (then Ford, but he was an anomaly because of the Nixon resignation), Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush (George W), and Trump. Looking back, they had more in common with each other than with the diverse American population they were meant to represent.

But Democrats are different.

During this same era which was and continues to be heavily dominated by the Republicans noted above, the only Democrats to win the White House were Kennedy (then Johnson, but he was also an anomaly because of the Kennedy assassination), Carter, Clinton (Bill) and Obama.  Interesting group, and very different from the Eisenhower to Trump contingent. These four men who managed to win as Democrats were alike in many ways and different from the prevailing GOP fare. Indeed, they were the antithesis of the GOP “standard” (and often their primary opponents in the Democratic party) in five critical ways, where each of these factors is important by itself, but all five together are a necessary intersectionality that produced a Democratic Presidential win each time:

First, they were young at the time of their election, representing the new generation at that time. They brought with them a new generational vision of America and new generational progressive values for America. They were the up-and-coming generational cohort, and youth and vitality were an important appeal that propelled them to capture the hearts of Americans.

Second (listen to this – it’s interesting), they had never run for the office of President in a primary or in a general Presidential election before. They were new on the national scene when they entered the primary for the Democratic party nomination that led to their winning the White House. They started relatively unknown and were each viewed as a fresh face, and quickly captured the imagination of the electorate. They may have lost an election or two previously for state/local positions, but their first attempt at running for President was successful. They were not tainted with the label of “re-tread.” They were new to the national spotlight and captured attention in ways that the “known” candidates did not. Note that none of them had been prior Vice Presidents (so much for that theory!). They came with no national baggage. They may have lacked experience in foreign affairs or other matters, but they were seen as “up-and-comers” and not as “has-beens,” and that propelled them forward.

Third, each one represented some new demographic of the American population that had yet to become President and was questioned at the time. From being Catholic, Southern liberal, or African-American, they were one way or another not the typical white Anglo-Saxon Protestant candidate from the traditional regions of the U.S. at the time (I was at the 1976 Democratic Convention in NYC which nominated Carter, and part of the excitement was the notion that he represented a “new, progressive South” which was attempting to move beyond its racist past; progressives embraced this idea, although Evangelicals did not; Clinton further represented this value  16 years later). Something was different about them, and they felt that America was ready for change in accepting a new kind of Presidential candidate.

Fourth, each of the candidate’s spouses also stood out with their own agenda for change independent of the candidate, unlike the traditional and quiet GOP or other Democratic contenders’ spouses. The spouse played a role in engendering enthusiasm for the future FLOTUS position and these spouses were an integral part of the election. They added to the campaign in significant ways. Compare Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush and Melania Trump with Jackie Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. These are two very different groups of potential First Spouses during their respective elections.

Finally, each of the candidates was good-looking, calm in demeanor, and exquisitely eloquent. These candidates were charismatic, had a sense of ease about them, were most comfortable speaking publicly and taking questions in stride with a high degree of composure. They had a sense of humor and knew how to use it. They could easily defuse tension, and they didn’t express anger or sarcasm. Their demeanor was uplifting and positive. And they were physically healthy, well-toned and in-shape during their election period. They looked fit, smart, in-command and ready to take on the job as a new President.

They were winners from the get-go as they each embodied youth, freshness, difference, poise and a new national Democratic party. They were the new kids on the block who quickly gained respect and admiration. They stood next to their old and tired Democratic contenders and GOP counterparts and gave America the sense of a new beginning with a vibrant new face. That’s the formula for successful Democrats in the Presidential race.

And yet, we so often forget and allow ourselves to be sidetracked. And for 2020, here we go again with Sanders, Biden and Warren leading the pack. There are many fine qualities among this group, but fundamentally, they are the old guard. They look old, they act old, and the baggage and anger, along with high negatives in their histories that they carry is too much of a burden. If one of them were to obtain the nomination they would most likely lose the election.

Let’s be completely honest – youth and the other factors of freshness and vitality matter for progressive voters, and have for over a half century. I’m not talking about the “youth vote” which Bernie attracted; I’m talking about a youthful candidate who has appeal across all age groups. So, the message to Sanders, Biden and Warren is: please, continue to be fine political leaders and statespeople, but you won’t win in a national election. Progressives don’t vote for “been-there, seen-that” Presidential candidates. Maybe that’s not fair, but it’s true and has been tested for decades. Progressives vote for those who are novel. They want bright-eyed and brand-spanking new (it’s what allowed for the first African-American President; it wasn’t just race; it was also his youth and novelty that propelled Obama to win). It’s what makes those who vote for Democratic Presidential candidates different from Republicans. As Randi Rhodes once said, Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. And those Democratic nominees who lost the Presidential elections – Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton – were all too well known at the time (many had been Vice Presidents and Hillary had been FLOTUS), lacked the charismatic and other optics, and had been around far too long for American to fall in love. They were old family, not lovers.

And that’s why names like Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke and the like are surfacing as serious contenders, with Buttigieg and Harris at the top of this group and both gaining significantly in popularity. It’s remarkable. This is the group of candidates who can win in 2020 and beat Trump-Pence, as they are not the list of standard names of those whose time for running for POTUS has long passed. Just a short time ago, these new names were relative unknowns throughout the nation. They moved from local to national presence in a matter of months, not years.

It’s simple: Republicans want Presidents who are father-figures; Democrats don’t. And the Presidential nominee stands out in American politics as the ONE person who is meant to embody the party’s aspirations. Republicans want to go backwards and want to select a President who is the model of a previous era they admire; Democrats want progress and want to select a President who is the vision of the future they want to see. Democrats can’t win by appealing to a new set of progressive and forward-thinking ideals when their leader presents in all ways – physical, emotional and through language – an image of an old, tired, uninspiring, stiff and angry candidate. The optics are too strong and bespeak anything but a progressive agenda. But when Democrats make the right choices in the primaries, and select the candidate that does give the progressive optics, then Democrats can win; when they try to keep with the old guard, they lose. Let’s face it, the 2016 Democratic primary was about two old white people (albeit one was a woman, but Hillary did not meet the other criteria noted above – although misogyny also played a role in her defeat to Trump), and look how that turned out. Let’s wish Sanders, Biden and Warren all the best and ask them to act as support for a young, fresh face who can win the 2020 election (and thank Hillary for not running again). And let’s get on with nominating the next young, eloquent, Presidential election virgin, a nominee who is a national newbie who reeks of vitality and who can beat Trump-Pence. Mind you, I’m no ageist; I am simply noting the pattern which seems to create a scenario in which the Democratic nominee for President can win.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Why Electability Is So Important

April 9, 2019 – 4:20 pm ET 
By Rich Weissman, Palm Springs, California (

It’s 2:00 am and you are awakened to the smell of smoke. The laundry room is on fire. Do you …

“A”: Wake-up the family, get the pets, get everyone out of the house, call 911 and run to the street corner to flag down the approaching fire trucks?

Or, “B”: Wake-up the family, get the pets, and sit down at the kitchen table to continue the earlier dinner debate on whether the family should purchase an electric vs. hybrid vs. gas-efficient car?

Just to be clear, “A” is the correct answer. And, you shouldn’t make the fire people fill out a form on their past fire-fighting failures, nor on their specific strategy to fight your fire before they start their work. No, just let them do their job and put out the fire and save your house. And thank them. Then, and only then, can you attend to other issues and talk about which car to purchase.

Well, our democracy is on fire and the Constitution is burning. And we need to put it out in 2020. That’s all that matters now. We can have many debates on issues after the 2020 election, but right now, if we continue to tear each other apart, searching for the perfect Democratic candidate whom we have adored and with for whom we have fallen in love, with the perfect record and the perfect position on every issue, then the 2020 election will be as moot as 2016.

Instead, let’s quickly coalesce behind the presidential candidate who is most electable, who has the greatest appeal across-the-board, who will inspire the largest group to turn out and vote Democratic, and who has the vitality, freshness and a clean background sans scandal, animosity or intra-party divisiveness, so as to win against Trump. Period. No sour grapes, no ego, just support for the most electable nominee, based on the need to eviscerate the corruption and hatred Trumpism has engendered.

So c’mon, let’s be smart and hold off debating specific issues that divide Democrats. Let’s try something new this time: unifying as a single voice. And let’s also seriously attend to voter registration and turnout, paying critical attention to maintaining and growing the majority in the House, to turning the Senate blue, and to helping Democrats win down-ticket. Focus, focus, focus. All else is simply narcissism and self-destructiveness, engaging in highly esoteric and meaningless discussion as you watch your house burn down. That’s my fear. Democrats will behave in ways in which they have repeatedly done in the past, and the self-righteous in-fighting will destroy us, and Trump-Pence and the GOP will win again in 2020.

Let’s do it differently this time and understand that we have to be united and select a unifying nominee. Not necessarily your favorite, not one who will be your BFFL, but one who can command the stage in a way that rises above the nastiness of the primary fray, who brings a positive, likable and calming message, and who can appeal to a wide base of voters in new ways, all focused on one goal: defeating Trump-Pence. Are you on board?