What time is it?: Why we can’t ignore the momentum of the Right

Taken at the 09/14 Donald Trump rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Last month, a nationally influential group of community builders and advocates for social, economic, and environmental justice gathered in rural Washington to address what we believe to be a critical turning point in American politics. In tribute to the great activist-philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs, we asked ourselves the question that she would often start meetings with: What time is it on the clock of the world?

Broadly speaking, the consensus is that we’re in a time of great instability, revolt, and possibility. History teaches us that in times like these, we need to be both bold and vigilant. Authoritarian, chauvinistic, and bigoted movements assert themselves most aggressively when people feel socially and economically threatened. We know the drill. We’ve lived it again and again.

But this time is different. This time, traditional sources of stability and leadership are being rejected on all sides, and people are seeking radical, or at least non-establishment, solutions. Our fear is that the Right Wing may be better positioned than we are to capitalize on this moment amongst white people – including white voters – and better positioned than ever before.

The Right Wing may be better positioned than we are to capitalize on this moment amongst white people.

The presidential primary season makes the case that rebellion is afoot. Bernie Sanders’ strong showing seems to signal the rise of a progressive, post-Occupy electoral rebellion, especially among younger voters. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s lock on the GOP presidential nomination seems to indicate an equal opposite of sorts. The primary election results speak to a broader, multi-dimensional rebellion against elites that threatens both major parties. That rebellion is causing old norms to fall, opening the door for a major fight over which sector will define the new normal in U.S. politics.

What Trump and Sanders supporters share is a passionate anti-elitism and deep frustration with an “establishment” viewed as having failed American workers. These competing forces appear to have the most political momentum, if not yet the numbers or resources necessary, to directly define the “middle” of national electoral politics.

Not yet is the operative term here. Beating right-wing forces to the punch will require us to bring the fight to elites and the institutions of power that they dominate, and to blunt the progress of those on the Right who are competing with us for influence over those institutions.

Eight Conditions That Make the Right Especially Dangerous Now

First, in a time when people on both ends of the political spectrum are rejecting the middle, and what many on both sides refer to as the establishment, the best organized and most compelling radical force is likely to exercise the most direct and profound influence.

We believe the Right has put itself in this position. Most right-wing groups, the Tea Parties being an especially good example, talk like conservatives, citing the “original construction and intent of the Constitution” as the template for their political agendas. But, the reality is that they’re subverting the Constitution and other symbols of middle-Americanism – everything from cowboy boots and three-cornered hats, to the founding fathers, the American Dream, and key tenets of liberalism, like liberty and individual freedom – to use as talismans in service to radically repressive, exclusionary, anti-democratic, and authoritarian agendas.

It is also notable that Bernie Sanders’ advocacy of progressive policies heretofore considered completely unviable to most establishment liberals has both directly influenced the Clinton campaign and made an opening for progressive legislators like Elizabeth Warren to expand their influence. Of course, Clinton’s candidacy represents the establishment elite, while Trump appeals to those who would reject the middle. Moreover, Trump’s advocacy of unconstitutional and anti-democratic measures is making a hard Right legislator like Ted Cruz appear almost reasonable by comparison.

Second, the Right’s immediate projected base – economically insecure, socially conservative whites – are simultaneously feeling the pinch of racial demographic change, which many view as a threat to the meaning of “American,” and bearing witness to the collapse of the middle class. The Right has popularized the idea that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. The resulting rising tide of fear and rage among many whites is lifting the hopes of white nationalist groups, some of which have “by any means necessary” approaches to political struggle.

Third, right-wing groups – ranging from those whose tactics are mainly confined to public policy and elections like the Tea Parties, to paramilitary groups who are attempting to take control of local governments through intimidation and direct action, such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters – are reading Trump’s rise as a sign that this may be their time. For some, Trump’s success is creating the impression that a European-style fascist movement such as we saw in the WWII era is viable in the United States.

The danger that right-wing paramilitary groups pose is especially serious in rural parts of the country where a collapse of investment in public infrastructure…is preventing local governments from providing adequate first responder services.

The danger that right-wing paramilitary groups pose is especially serious in rural parts of the country where a collapse of investment in public infrastructure, including traditional law enforcement, is preventing local governments from providing adequate first responder services. This creates an opening for armed militias to compete for power in settings where, increasingly, whoever has the most guns has a distinct advantage. Those who jokingly dubbed the Bundy militia – which recently seized and occupied a federal bird sanctuary in Harney County, Oregon – “Vanilla ISIS” aren’t too far off the mark.

Fourth, there is less standing in the way of the Right today than in the past. By many measures of political capacity including mass organizations like unions, mainline Protestant churches, and mass movements, key sectors of the Left have not recovered from the defeats dating back to the Reagan “revolution.”

There are certainly vibrant, innovative progressive movements including Black Lives Matter, alt labor, climate justice, and Not1More. Each of these movements is having powerful positive social and cultural impacts, transforming debates on critical issues in the U.S. and around the world, and creating the potential for urgently needed political changes.

However, today’s movements don’t have the institutional infrastructure and concentrated power that traditional New Deal/Great Society/Left groupings had prior to the Reagan ’80s. And – critically – the liberal/progressive/Left has fewer institutions that regularly and meaningfully engage the people being organized into right-wing populist movements. At a time when the Right is quickly building its base, we are in a weaker position to out-organize them among those they are targeting for recruitment: white working-class people.

Fifth, we now have a much denser concentration of right-wing populists predisposed to support authoritarianism within one of the two major political parties: the GOP.

In order to shed the elitist image that the GOP developed in the wake of the Great Depression and throughout the Democrat-led economic recovery of the last century, the GOP created what is now widely known as the Southern Strategy. They believed that white Southern voters would reject the Democratic Party, which was once the party of white supremacy, if they could reframe them as the party of Blacks and civil rights. They accomplished this in several ways: by deploying a combination of coded and more overt racism to scapegoat people of color, particularly Blacks, for the declining economic and social status of white workers; by inciting fear of foreign enemies threatening us internationally; and by demonizing “anti-American” elements on the Left as threatening us domestically. All of this served to justify a hawkish foreign policy, and a punitive law-and-order domestic policy.

The Southern Strategy didn’t just exploit right-wing movements in order to build the GOP’s base; it popularized authoritarian, anti-democratic, and bigoted ideas that pushed the whole political spectrum to the Right. Perhaps most influential among these ideas are:

  • That the private sector is inherently more efficient and cost-effective than government (think Trump, the deal maker), and
  • That government, especially national government, is controlled by elites who are wrongly expropriating the material and social capital of real, productive Americans (“makers”) to redistribute as patronage to the sinful, lazy, and dangerous classes (“takers”) in exchange for political support.

Among the “takers” that most drive the rage machine are Black people, immigrants of color, and poor people of color – especially poor single mothers of color, who they claim live in a dysfunctional culture of dependency that can only be cured through austerity. The Right was so successful at popularizing these ideas that they would be articulated through the public policy agenda of a Democratic Presidential administration (Bill Clinton’s) by the 1990s.

By positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, the GOP has consolidated a previously bipartisan right-wing populist constituency large enough to buck its own party establishment and select their own candidate. (They just did.)

Sixth, the racial demography of the U.S. is rapidly changing. In 1980, more than 85% of the American electorate was white. Today, the electorate is only 67% white, and that percentage is rapidly falling. White voters are losing their ability to define and hold the middle of American culture and politics and this is contributing to the rage and fear that drove white support for regressive welfare reform, tough-on-crime policies and the prison buildup, repressive national security measures, and a wildly expensive and punitive deportation regime targeting undocumented immigrants of color.

Political scientist Jean V. Hardisty was among the first to demonstrate how sophisticated conservative organizers learned to cultivate and mobilize resentment over the erosion of white privilege. As the erosion of the status, privilege, and political influence associated with being white in the United States escalates, that resentment is building.

Seventh, the cruelty of the free-market ideology of “neoliberalism” is driving financial deregulation, austerity, privatization (resulting, in part, in increasingly underfunded and unresponsive government), falling wages for most, and a stagnant or shrinking economy for the bottom 90 percent of Americans.

The Democratic Party responded to the neoliberal “Reagan revolution” by opting to forge relationships with social issue liberals (LGBT, traditional race-based civil rights organizations, etc.) and neoliberal business elites. By doing so, they contributed to the widespread and increasingly popular right-wing trope that whites suffer more discrimination and have less influence on “liberal” government and media than Black people.

These changes have opened space for right-wing populist appeals for cross-class white racial solidarity as a response to economic hardship – with the implicit message that bigotry can bring prosperity.

Altogether, these changes have opened space for right-wing populist appeals for cross-class white racial solidarity as a response to economic hardship – with the implicit message that bigotry can bring prosperity.

Eighth, social scientists have found that many people – including those who might otherwise support basic social fairness – are driven to support authoritarian figures and approaches by perceived physical threats or by destabilizing social change. Given the wide array of real and perceived threats to social stability in contemporary society, this raises the danger of what we might call “disaster authoritarianism.”

Multiple crises could drive a populist demand to consolidate power in the executive branch of government. We have seen evidence of this in the fear-driven post-9/11 push to limit civil liberties and to rush to war. Climate change, infectious disease outbreaks, the rise of violent stateless totalitarian movements, extreme economic instability, same-sex marriage and other disruptions of traditional gender roles, racial demographic change – these and other trends could activate dormant support for demagogic leadership.

More immediately, could a San Bernadino-type attack or a series of crises in the months or weeks before the general election propel a law-and-order authoritarian candidate into the White House and/or consolidate support for further suspensions of civil liberties?  Maybe. But what is certain is the increasing pressure and insecurity will put steel in the arguments of those who advocate for strongman solutions.

November 2015 Donald Trump Rally in Springfield, IL.

November 2015 Donald Trump Rally in Springfield, IL. (Photo: Joseph Blewitt via Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

But Is It Fascism, Yet?

All of the conditions described here don’t necessarily add up to fascism, nor predict that a totalitarian movement will eventually seize our government. But, that doesn’t mean that nativist, white nationalist, and other right-wing movements can’t do great damage even while losing.

Here’s an example. In 1964, GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater lost the general election to Lyndon Johnson while taking only 38.5% of the vote. But, Goldwater’s direct appeals to xenophobia and racism won the South and flipped a significant number of white Southern Democrats into Republicans. Goldwater’s run was the template for the GOP Southern Strategy we referenced earlier. Moreover, right-wing leaders mined the donor lists of the Goldwater campaign, and the campaigns for president of an even more unpopular presidential candidate, former segregationist Alabama Governor, George Wallace, for direct-mail marketing campaigns. Those campaigns provided a big part of the original money used to build key right-wing organizations that we are still battling today.

The Call To Action: Join the Three-Way Fight

We need to wage a three-way fight. On one side, we need to fight with institutions of power that perpetuate injustice. On the other, we need to fight with those who are competing with us for influence over those same institutions. These two sides of the struggle are equally critical in the struggle for progressive change.

This may seem like a big ask, but we’re already involved in three-way fights on critical issues. The Right is already in the three-way fight, and their ability to exercise influence is dependent on beating us up.

Here’s an example. On the issue of immigration reform, right-wing anti-immigrant groups have used racism to vilify undocumented immigrants and to justify increasingly repressive immigration controls. They’ve turned a national policy debate over how to achieve a just resolution for undocumented workers into a fight over whether it is practical to deport more than 11 million people whom they have branded as a criminal class, and via Trump, as “rapists” and “drug dealers.” This reframing has forced many who support humane reform to reframe their arguments to back what is seen as the only viable reform proposal in Congress. That proposal would impose a more than 11-year path to citizenship on undocumented immigrants and institute what amounts to being forced into a highly exploitative guest worker program on undocumented workers, all while continuing to detain and deport growing ranks of criminalized immigrants.

Here’s another. On the issue of abortion access, the Right responded to Roe v. Wade by reframing the reproductive freedoms that it institutionalized as a struggle over religious freedom and the rights to life of “unborn children.” Advocates of equitable access to safe and legal abortions have been forced to respond to the Right’s framing of the issue and to a new and increasingly effective states’ rights strategy. In much of the debate, this minimizes advocacy for women’s self-determination and centers instead the most extreme cases where the life of the “mother” (suggesting that the fetus is a baby) is at risk. Meanwhile, access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for poor women is evaporating, and we are now at pre-Roe v. Wade levels of abortion access.

Each time we enter into a political fight, whether it is about public education, income supports, trade, foreign policy, national security, labor, or even the U.S. Postal Service, the Right is there, reframing the issues and driving discussion away from practical, broadly beneficial solutions and toward exclusionary and regressive non-solutions and punishment. By doing so, they are effectively moving the goal post in our fights with institutions of power, requiring us to repeatedly change our playbooks, and making us less and less coherent to those on the downside of unjust power relations.

Trump Protest in Fountain Hills, AZ on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Chris Vena via Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Trump Protest in Fountain Hills, AZ on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Chris Vena via Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

How Do We Fight the Three-Sided Fight?

First, we need to get better at fighting the Right. In order to do that, we need to incorporate strategies to Disrupt, Defuse, and Compete.

We disrupt the Right by separating right-wing leaders from their bases of support, a task often best accomplished in two ways: 1) by exposing the elitist interests behind right-wing leaders’ all-style-no-substance populism, and 2) by identifying and exploiting internal divisions within right-wing coalitions and organizations.

We defuse the tensions that the Right both drives and thrives on by defeating the bigotry and fear underlying those tensions. This means doing effective anti-bigotry work, while building coalitions broad enough to include populations that the Right is targeting. But, anti-bigotry efforts can’t just focus on the harm that bigotry does to those who are targeted, they must address the destructive force of bigotry on the kind of political culture necessary to support democracy and win meaningful political participation for all, and the broad negative effects of public policies that bigotry tends to drive.

We compete by going up against the Right and vying directly for the loyalty of those who make up the immediate projected base of their support: white working-class people. Most right-wing groups’ core support is drawn from the white middle class, but right-wing movements don’t stop there. They traditionally organize “down” the economic ladder and reach for working-class whites, whose numbers are vital to their success. Successfully competing will require us to authentically express empathy and compassion to white poor people and to those who fear falling into poverty, and to do so while marrying economic justice to racial and social equity. Doing this blunts the effectiveness of the Right’s scapegoating strategies. It provides better, more solutions-oriented explanations to those susceptible to right-wing recruitment.

We should also remember that white nationalist movements are identity movements. We must take seriously the sense among a growing number of whites that white identity is under attack.

White anti-racist activists are critical to successfully competing with the Right for the attention of those vulnerable to their appeals. We should also remember that white nationalist movements are identity movements. We must take seriously the sense among a growing number of whites that white identity is under attack. That older white voters seem to feel this threat most acutely could be a reflection of generationally bound values, but it is also very likely an indication of the vulnerability that many feel as they age.

Good organizing meets people where they are, and not where we wish they were. Moreover, good organizing focuses on the egos of those being organized, and not on the egos of the organizers. This isn’t a pissing contest over who gets “it.” It’s a fight for economic and social justice for everyone.

In consideration of these trends, justice-minded people and movements should consciously pivot our work in order to disrupt, defuse, and – critically – compete with the bigoted Right for its projected base of support. To do otherwise risks giving white nationalism room to consolidate as a national political force.



PRA Founder Jean Hardisty’s Reflections on the Last 30 Years

This interview with PRA founder Jean Hardisty was published in our Fall/Winter 2011 newsletter, celebrating PRA’s 30th anniversary. It is republished here in honor of Jean, who passed away in March.

What motivated you to study the political Right?

I spent eight years in academia in the 1970s as a political scientist and my field was contemporary political philosophy. I’d become quite interested in neo-Conservatism (Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Norman Podhoretz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick) and saw that this ideology had the potential to catch on in the U.S. It had a focus on individualism, supported capitalism, was avidly anti-communist, and was not entirely incompatible with Christian fundamentalism, so it seemed to me that it would have appeal at that time of growing backlash against my own historical period—the 1960s.

Jean V. Hardisty, 1945-2015

Jean V. Hardisty, 1945-2015

I was motivated by intellectual curiosity and a growing disillusionment with the wisdom of the voting public. In 1978 I left academia, feeling that the campus life was too isolating. I went to work for the ACLU for a year, then, in Chicago, where I lived at the time, I opened was was then known as Midwest Research. Very quickly we grew to a staff of three!

What were PRA’s founding principles?

Our opening occurred on the heels of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. I had followed the growth of the New Right and could see its influence in his campaign and administration. I felt its increasing power as a serious threat to everything I had spent my life working to support—efforts to advance equality, the women’s movement, gay rights, reproductive rights, anti-racism, militarism, and workers’ rights, to name a few. Meanwhile the Left and other progressives seemed to dismiss the New Right as a band of “hillbillies” and “rednecks.” My colleague Chip Berlet and I knew them to be White, middle-class business people, who were excellent political strategists. Our only goal at Midwest Research was to correct this misperception, on the grounds that if it were not corrected, the progressive movement would make serious and destructive mistakes in opposing New Right inititiatives.

Chip, Peggy Shinner, our board and I all agreed on a founding set of principles:

  • We would remain independent. In the past, most fight-the-right groups had been part of a left party or formation. We wanted and sought no affiliation, though we have developed innumerable collegial ties with other groups in the progressive movement.
  • We would back up everything we said with documentation and avoid rhetoric or inaccessible language.
  • We would operate with transparency and make our materials, including our substantial library, available to the public.
  • We would track only on leaders of the Right, not followers, and we would educate the public on the difference.
  • We would not promote hate, but instead would work to advance understanding.
  • We would defend free speech and other civil liberties, even when the speech itself was hateful.

Why did you feel you and your tiny staff were qualified?

Although I have always found it helpful to have a Ph.D., that alone is not a qualification to do this work. Rather, it requires an ability to think analytically, to work with great care and attention to detail, and to keep an open mind. In Chip’s words, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” The learning curve at PRA is very steep for incoming staff, and the work requires people who are not daunted by that. It also helps to be brilliant, as was the late Margaret Quigley. Surina Khan, Nikhil Aziz and Palak Shah all brought enormous skills and talent to PRA over the years.

What were your greatest hopes?

On a personal level, I wanted to do work that allowed me to look in the mirror in the morning and feel that I was doing my best to promote social justice. I felt that every that at PRA, which is not to say that the work wasn’t also frustrating, complex, and challenging. But to do this work in the way it should be done—with care and a certain amount of compassion—always made me proud, especially of the staff. We never felt that an olive branch was the best answer to the Right, but excellent public education is something to be proud of.

On an institutional level, I wanted PRA to play a constructive role in the progressive movement and to guide our supporters and colleagues with wisdom and how to understand the Right. I saw PRA as an organization that existed to serve the movement and the public, and I believe we did, and continue to, accomplish that. Our early work predated the Internet, but we were one of the first progressive organizations to have a high quality website.

What are you most grateful for?

Of course I am deeply grateful to our donors, some of whom have been with us since the beginning. It takes a profound understanding of movement structure and movement building to appreciate the role that PRA plays. Our supporters have had that understanding. Both individuals and foundations have been aware of the threat posed by the Right, even when the general public believes that the Right was “over” or “defeated,” as was the case with the election of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

As organizations struggle today with inadequate funding and our donors struggle with fewer resources to support us, we see smaller organizations going under every day. Further, there is a generational change in leadership of the movement that is both exciting and requires new thinking on the part of us older folks. I am grateful to live in “challenging times” and glad that I did not spend my life on the sidelines as the country has been ravaged by right-wing ideology, the Right’s devious tactics, and the mobilization of religion for political purposes.

What do you most regret?

I am tremendously disappointed that the progressive religious community has not stepped up in a more assertive way to stand against the Christian Right. And, of course, I regret that PRA has had to struggle for financial stability over the years and still does, despite wide acknowledgement of the high quality of its work. Fundraising would be easier if PRA were to trim its sails and speak less truth to power. I am proud to say that such a change is unlikely, if not to say out of the question.

How do you see PRA now that you are gone?

I think PRA is a better organization now than it was when I was the Executive Director. The material the organization generates is of greater volume and even more impressive, and the impact of PRA’s work is greater. While the transition was a bit rocky, it is now on very solid ground—with principles completely intact. Fundraising is still a challenge and is the one thing that may be PRA’s “Achilles heel.” But if there is any justice, PRA will be doing its work for years to come, as I become increasingly its proud godmother.

My On-Again, Off-Again Romance With Liberalism

In honor of PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty, please enjoy this article originally published by the Women’s Theological Center (now known as Women Transforming Communities) in March 1996, as part of The Brown Paper series. Republished with permission.
Jean hardisty SLIDE

PRA founder Jean Hardisty

As I sit at my desk working my way through a stack of requests for donations and entreaties to renew my membership in various organizations, I am torn about when to write a check and when to save my money. At the moment, the pressing question for me is whether to support the larger, liberal organizations that do what I think of as “mainstream” liberal work—organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way.

For years I have written these checks, almost as an act of dutiful citizenship. After all, I am glad the organizations are there. I want them to continue to exist. That means I have to do my part to keep them alive. But this seems a rather lazy way to make a decision.

I feel I should decide what I really think about liberalism and its prospects in the 1990s. It is clear that in 1996 liberalism is in eclipse—or at least adrift and demoralized. Meanwhile, the Right is in its glory. It dominates the political arena, with an apparent lock on the new ideas, the money, the organization, and the attention that used to belong to liberalism.

Liberalism is nearly an orphan. It has a bad name in many circles. For the Left, it represents a compromised reformism. For the Right, it is socialism in disguise. For the center, it is a label associated with fuzzy thinking and do-gooder incompetence.

Liberals are divided and seem to have lost confidence in their own ideology. The vicious attacks mounted by the Right have scored points with the public by caricaturing liberal programs, their adherents, and their recipients. After fifteen years of such attacks there is now a proven formula: seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The “welfare queen,” the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire—all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.

In the face of these attacks, liberals themselves seem to know on some level that their programs have not worked as planned. Even in defending them, they are forced to appeal to the spirit in which the programs were based, or the benefits they have delivered to their most deserving beneficiaries. Liberals seem unable to mount a vigorous defense of these programs—on their own terms, across the board, without regard to the worthiness of the recipients. By mounting a weak defense, liberals tacitly concede to their Republican attackers that the programs are at least flawed, perhaps even indefensible.

The Swinging Door

I have seen liberalism’s programs and ideology up close for over thirty years. At fifty, I have reached some clarity about liberalism, especially since I have the advantage of a Left perspective—a set of glasses, if you will, that helps to bring the shortcomings of both liberalism and conservatism into focus. Further, I learned my politics during the Vietnam War, a war waged by liberals as well as conservatives.

I know that domestic social programs are intended as amelioration, not real change. I know that the same men who voted for public housing programs voted for aid to the Guatemalan military. I understand liberalism’s self-serving tendency to preserve the status quo, why big business often has found it a useful ally, why its redistributive measures never really disturb the sleep of the rich. I understand why it tolerates police brutality, a rogue FBI, why NAFTA, why GATT. I know all that.

Yet as the Right picks off liberal programs one by one, I mourn each one as if it were the product of a golden age of liberty, equality, and fraternity. My understanding of liberalism’s shortcomings and its history of opportunism is gone. Liberal programs are bathed with a glow of benevolence, set off by a stark contrast with the anti-social and avaricious agenda of the Right.

Take public housing as an example. As it is defunded by the Right and its real estate sold off, I am torn by two conflicting images. In the back of my mind are the towers of Cabrini Green, a massive, notoriously rundown, and dangerous housing project in Chicago. Here the ultimate effect of a liberal program is to segregate poor Black people in a high-rise ghetto. In fact, the numerous high-rise federal housing projects in Chicago form a “wall” that cordons off poor people from the rest of the city. It is difficult to see the result of this liberal housing effort on behalf of low-income families without assuming a malicious intent behind the program.

But in the front of my mind are other images: a broken-down, substandard house in rural Mississippi transformed into a prefab house with indoor water, electricity, and walls that are tight against the weather. Or a range of housing such as scattered rent-subsidized low-income units, low-rise complexes, and rent-controlled apartments that allow people to live in decent conditions even though they have very little money. It is these images that draw me. Perhaps it is sentimental, but I am compelled by the notion of a society that will not tolerate extreme poverty and that responds with redistributive programs—even though the programs are often flawed and sometimes cynical.

This softness toward liberalism is not easy to admit. It can be especially embarrassing to defend liberalism when I am speaking to progressives. It feels like admitting a weakness in my political commitment to Left, progressive values, the values that demand fundamental systemic change and redistribution of power. But this soft-on-liberalism instinct is grounded in my progressive politics. I see the two in relation to each other. I understand the role that liberalism plays in facilitating the work that progressives do. The Left needs liberals to create the breathing room necessary for us to do our work. Liberals, in turn, are given direction and held to some minimal standard of honesty by the Left.

As a progressive feminist, I want to live in a country that understands that some people cannot manage and that is willing to take responsibility for them. I want a government I can believe in; one that is willing to defy the often malicious intent of local power structures and defend the rights of all its citizens with determination. And I am convinced that only the federal government can deliver that protection. That often means that liberal social programs, administered by the federal government, are the only workable answer to social needs. This doesn’t mean I will get the government I want, but it does mean I cannot afford to throw away the idea of government as an important arbiter of justice.

The Right’s current promotion of states’ rights, which argues that power should be decentralized because only state governments provide for the real needs of local folks, ignores the history of states’ rights as a defense of brutal racial segregation and reactionary social policies. Transferring programs like public housing to the states is a sly method of defunding them. Progressives must be careful, when raising pointed criticisms and mounting protests regarding government programs, that we do not let our anti-government rhetoric feed the anti-government campaign of the Right.

I admit that when looking at liberal programs, I have a tendency to accept liberalism’s most appealing face as reality. I am drawn, for instance, by the 1960s social plan called The War on Poverty. I find a certain poetry, idealism, solidarity, and respect in the words themselves. Even when they turn out to be just words (that stand in ironic contrast to the Vietnam War, which was waged simultaneously) they nevertheless represent a glimpse of ideas and programs propelled by humanity and mutual concern. Perhaps two stories from my own experience will help to explain both my attraction to liberalism as we know it and my ambivalence about it.

In Chicago’s 1982 mayoral race, Harold Washington, a progressive African-American Congressman from the South Side, ran against the machine candidate, Jane Byrne, in the Democratic primary. Washington won. The white machine was stunned, and scrambled to find a candidate to run against Washington in the general election. Since Washington would be the Democratic Party candidate, they would have to find a Republican, but they were hard-pressed to locate one, since Chicago is a one-party town. They did find a rather pathetic man named Bernie Epton, who visibly struggled with emotional instability and barely made it through Election Day. Despite the stark difference in the two candidates’ qualifications, most white voters in Chicago voted for Epton. They preferred the unstable white man with no political experience to the charismatic, experienced, progressive, anti-machine African American. Again, however, Washington won.

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

There were several reasons for his victory. First, Chicago at that time had a minority population of 45%—a voting block large enough to create a plurality of votes. Second, Washington put together a rare coalition that drew over 90 percent of the African-American vote and most of the Latino vote. And finally, “lakefront liberals”—primarily white, often professional, definitely higher-income residents who lived close to the Lake Michigan waterfront—delivered the balance needed to put him narrowly over the top. Among white voters, only the lakefront liberals defied their race allegiance and voted for the Black man.

For me, the Washington election captured a clear irony about life in Chicago. I was proud that Chicago was no ordinary racist northern industrial city. Chicago is organized. It is perhaps the most organized city in the country—the birthplace of the community organizing style of Saul Alinsky. All of Chicago’s neighborhoods—especially the White neighborhoods—are organized with the goal of empowering working people, and much of this organizing has been done by liberals.

Yet when those organized citizens were called on to vote for a more progressive future, they were not able to make the connections. The community organizing so conscientiously mounted by liberals did not touch the racism of Chicago’s White voters. Unable to address the basic social problems, especially racism, liberalism came up short in an actual test of its effectiveness in creating change.

But liberalism was not a complete failure in Chicago. The lakefront liberals did the right thing. Faint-hearted, arrogant, complicit, and often self-serving, they nevertheless served as the swinging door against which social change could push. Without them, there was no space, no breathing room, no recourse.

Perhaps the lakefront liberals stood to gain under a Washington Administration that would create more space for their business interests than the locked-down machine offered. Perhaps the communities of color that voted so overwhelmingly for Washington were mostly voting against Chicago’s White political machine. But the reality remains. It was the vote of White liberals that put the progressive Mayor Washington over the top.

Another story comes to mind. In the early 1980s the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of Leftist political groupings in El Salvador, mounted a credible attempt to overthrow the Salvadoran political establishment. The context for this effort was El Salvador’s history of economic exploitation by an oligarchy of landowners supported by a military trained and armed by the U.S., and a complicit Catholic church hierarchy. El Salvador’s social and economic system was injustice and oppression itself.

The FMLN was explicitly revolutionary. However, it had an arm that operated above ground, in the electoral arena. Always at risk from death squads, some brave people were willing to put themselves at risk by being affiliated publicly with this above-ground group, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, or FDR. The president of the FDR, the late Guillermo Ungo, was well-known in the United States.

In the early 1980s, I was part of a delegation of U.S. foundation staff and donors, led by the director of The Philadelphia Foundation, that went to Central America to meet with humanitarian aid organizations, human rights organizations, and others centrally involved in the conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. J. Roderick MacArthur, the son of the billionaire donor of the MacArthur Foundation, John D. MacArthur, was part of the delegation. Roderick MacArthur had his own foundation, known as “little MacArthur,” that had been involved in funding organizations opposing government abuses and repression against progressives. Rod MacArthur’s politics were liberal, unusually so for a businessman.

MacArthur met Ungo on that trip and they bonded as prominent businessmen with political concerns. MacArthur was both compelled by Ungo’s story and convinced that there were opportunities for U.S. business in a post-revolutionary El Salvador. When he returned to the U.S., MacArthur arranged to have Ungo come north to tour several cities, meeting with U.S. businessmen. When Ungo reached the Chicago stop on the tour, MacArthur held a reception for him in his Chicago suburban home. It was an opportunity for Ungo to speak to prominent Chicago businessmen. As a courtesy, he invited everyone who had been on the Central America trip to attend.

The meeting was predictably awkward. Ungo was not a charismatic man. The businessmen weren’t sure what the point was, and MacArthur didn’t seem able to sway them to his view. Out of courtesy to MacArthur, the businessmen were politely attentive, but they were not at all open to the revolutionary message of the FMLN, and certainly not able to sign onto MacArthur’s vision of a reformed El Salvador exporting its fabulous beer in profitable quantity to the U.S. The meeting fell rather flat.

Well, I thought, this just illustrates that you can’t promote revolution as a business opportunity. Even to want to do so is so exquisitely liberal! The incident provided more support for my sense of liberalism as complicit and ineffective. Nevertheless, as a result of that meeting, those businessmen were undoubtedly less likely to support a U.S. invasion of El Salvador. They were certainly better informed about the reality of life there, and the unbelievable maldistribution of wealth and the extent of repression. They would no longer give knee-jerk support to U.S. policy toward Central America. Rod MacArthur had made a contribution. He had influenced a sector that is completely inaccessible to progressives. He had begun to create a swinging door against which solidarity work could push.

That Compelling, Illusive Coalition

In June 1982, there was an enormous march in New York City to protest the triumph of the Right Wing of the Republican Party with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s administration had succeeded in making major changes in the tax structure, lowering the tax rate of the wealthy as one of its first acts in office. The march was so vast that miles of central Manhattan’s streets were filled with people. There were huge puppets, many more than 15 feet high, that eloquently mocked the Republicans and made tongue-in-cheek pleas for decency. A gigantic inflatable whale, emblazoned with the slogan “Save the Humans,” swayed down the packed streets.

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

There is no accurate count of how many people participated. As usual, the estimate by city officials was absurdly low. Perhaps more important, we don’t have an official record of which sectors of the liberal coalition were represented. But emotionally, I know exactly who was there. Everybody.

Or more accurately, all the White middle class reform movements that dominated and controlled the liberal coalition. The feminists, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the environmentalists, the disability rights movement, the reproductive rights defenders, the liberal unions. The civil rights movement was represented, but in small numbers, reflecting its position within the coalition as just another partner. That march seemed to me the last public display of the united front known as the liberal coalition.

That coalition was the lion that roared. It was a voting block that could propel a liberal to the Supreme Court, stop a war, prevent an invasion, impose curbs on corporate rapacity, force integration, forbid the death penalty, ensure voting rights.

Today it is a fractured remnant of its days of power. The larger, mainstream organizations are bloated, bureaucratic, and riddles with compromise. In order to maintain their programs, they have bowed to donors and corporate sponsors and cleansed themselves of radical voices, excusing their own moderation by pointing to the need to keep themselves alive in a hostile political climate. This applies even to some civil rights organizations. The vigor is gone, the vision is muddled, and the membership is down.

The less-compromised, small organizations are fighting over funds, plagued by professional jealousies and rivalries, and jockeying for position in a context of political defeat and defunding. The leadership is tired and aging and is not being replaced with another generation of dedicated activists.

Perhaps the coalition was doomed from the start. After all, it was frankly reformist, which means that it could take change only so far before it ran into its own contradictions. Nowhere was this more true than on the issue of race. The White-dominated liberal coalition was not about to give up its dearly-held issues because they were not well-suited to the needs of African Americans. Reproductive rights are a perfect example. The demand of African American women for the reproductive rights movement to broaden its agenda to include the concerns of women of color (e.g. that women be assured of the right to have children, as well as not have children) were heard by only a handful of reproductive rights organizations.

But this is just one of the man reasons for the decline of the coalition. Larger events conspired to weaken it and diminish its vision. I don’t pretend to know the exact profile of these forces. Certainly the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations and individuals under late capitalism has both elevated the individualism so basic to capitalism and defeated the notion of the common good. The attack by the organized and well-funded Right has been successful in undermining the popularity of the liberal vision. And, in any case, it is harder to hold a coalition together when it is undergoing defeat after defeat. By contrast, the Right’s coalition is enjoying victory after victory, and thus finds that continued cooperation and collaboration is visibly rewarded.

With so few victories and so little satisfaction to be had, each member of the liberal coalition now hangs onto whatever pale reformist policies or benefits can be saved. The sectors of the coalition that cannot survive on these remnants, especially working class wage-earners, have been left to make the best of it. The gutting of The Labor Relations Board, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and The U.S. Civil Rights Commission are just three examples of liberal programs now unable to deliver anything resembling social justice. Is it any wonder that so many working people are seduced by the Right’s vilification of liberalism when liberalism has proved unable to defend them and hasn’t appeared to try very hard?

So, the liberal coalition is fractured, aging, compromised, and lacking in vigor or new ideas. It remains White-dominated and predominantly middle-class. Why, then, do I mourn its passing from the center stage of power? Didn’t it deserve to fade?

Something makes me say: “Yes, but…” A part of me clings to a vision of the liberal coalition as it could have been. Also, frankly, I miss the power. Progressives are used to working at the margins, pushing liberals to redress the heinous injustices created by capitalism, and, when liberals create reformist programs, pushing the envelope to open an opportunity for real change. But without a powerful and effective liberal coalition to pressure, there are very few places for progressive policies to exert influence.

It is true that liberalism plays its own role as an aid to reactionary politics, acting as a buffer for capitalism by protecting it from the wrath of the people it exploits. By providing a veneer of caring and accommodation to human needs as well as profits, liberal programs cloud people’s political consciousness. No doubt about that.

But liberalism also serves as a buffer against fascism. In the 1970s we had the luxury of holding liberalism in disdain because it was a sop that prevented revolutionary social change. In the 1990s, liberalism looks more like a line of defense against the final triumph of the Right.

Come Back, Jimmy

By the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s, Carter was an easy man to scorn. The populist liberalism of his Presidential campaign had been thoroughly compromised as he “got it” about the Soviet threat. His wobbling political leadership became increasingly neoconservative. It was hard for progressives to find much to like about Carter.

Yet throughout the Reagan administration my mantra was: “Come back, Jimmy. All is forgiven.” What I missed wasn’t a hard-headed political analysis, a shrewd ability to work the system in behalf of social justice goals, an uncompromising commitment to the poor. These we had never had from Carter. What I missed, and had taken for granted, was that the man supported the Bill of Rights.

Carter was a typical liberal in that respect. He understood the role of the Bill of Rights in assuring that in addition to stable democratic institutions, people in the U.S. also have certain concrete rights. Take Article I of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. It reads in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble…” It is meant to protect the individual’s right to protest government actions. In the United States, freedom of speech is a civil liberty.

This guarantee has always been applied selectively. The free speech of racists has always been better protected than the free speech of campus war protesters. In the recent past, it was often necessary for the courts to intervene to protect Leftists from the violations of their First Amendment rights by law enforcement officers, the FBI, or exceptionally hostile Justice Departments, such as those of the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

Free speech is particularly important to progressives because in my attempt to change the status quo there must be room to unmask and debunk it. Censorship imposed by legal means, or self-censorship in the context of repression, means that the Left’s effectiveness is dramatically limited.

Progressives, therefore, are dependent on liberals’ commitment to the First Amendment. Liberals serve as a buffer protecting us from the Right and its history of attacking First Amendment freedoms. For instance, it is liberal legislators who stand in the way of laws banning the burning of the flag. It is liberals who defend “sacrilegious” art. It is liberal lawyers and judges who defend the rights of “communist sympathizers” and anti-war demonstrators, and keep the airwaves open for the likes of Angela Davis and Allen Ginsberg. Without that liberal commitment to the Bill of Rights, the voice of the Left could and would be silenced.

That is not to say that liberals won’t cut and run. If the accused is too politically unpopular or the cause too radical, liberals will hide behind the justification that these defendants or causes threaten national security, and they’ll allow the Bill of Rights to go. Sometimes they’ll cave in under threats by the Right to tar them with the brush of radicalism. In these cases, only progressives will stand up and fight for our guaranteed rights.

Nevertheless, right now we need liberal lawyers, judges, journalists, curators, abortion providers, legislators, teachers, unionists, affirmative action officers, and day care advocates. We need the breathing room and protection they provide for progressives. So each time one of them is won over by the Right’s prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudo-science, and outright lies, or each time a liberal resigns from office or retires from the bench (to be replaced by a credentialed Rightist, of course), I worry a bit more. It doesn’t matter whether I particularly like, respect, or admire liberals. I care about them because they are endangered, and I care about what that means for me and for our society.

But is it a Relationship?

Liberalism will raise your hopes and ultimately break your heart. Does that mean that it commands no loyalty? Should it be trashed because it is spineless and flawed? My answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”

It won’t do to say that liberalism could be a useful framework for a late capitalist society if only it wouldn’t act so much like liberalism. It is what it is. Nevertheless, it can be more or less effective according to the principles to which it holds.

The principle of “maximum feasible participation” is an example of the boundaries of liberalism’s potential as an open, humane, and egalitarian ideology. Maximum feasible participation calls for the people who are the recipients of liberal programs to also design, control, and implement the programs. It moves “good works” a step further toward actual power sharing.

Maximum feasible participation was an idea that was barely tried, then abandoned by liberals as unworkable. It is at exactly this juncture that liberalism reveals its intrinsic limitations. There is a crucially important distinction between addressing grievances and inequities with humanitarian aid on one hand, and in solving them through redistributing power on the other. All those who are dispossessed, whatever race, class, or gender, will be given only relief by liberal programs. They will not obtain true justice.

But when true justice is not available—in this country, for lack of the ability of progressives to compete effectively in the struggle for power—humanitarian aid makes a difference. It is this difference that the Right is killing off, program by program. The Right knows that without liberalism’s programs, there is less chance for even the myth of social change, not to mention its reality, to thrive. If they can eliminate the swinging door, then it will be even easier to redistribute power upward. This is one of the reasons that right-wing strategists spend so much time demonizing liberals, especially feminists, environmentalists, gay and lesbian rights activists, and supporters of multiculturalism.

Liberalism has not proved able to stand up to the reactionary onslaught by the Right. Is that surprising? Should progressive people put time and energy into defending liberalism and its programs? Yes – we must. As a strategic response to the current assault by the Right on every democratic principle, it is an important place to put time and energy.

At the same time, it is crucial that progressives continue to work for a more radical vision of social justice and redistribution of power and wealth. Liberalism is in retreat in part because it is not receiving the sort of pressure from progressives that forced it to pursue reform aggressively in the 1970s. Progressives often set the agenda for liberals, by taking direct confrontational action against unjust laws and policies. It is progressives whose public education truly unmasks the structural and individual racism, repression, and other forms of injustice within the U.S. system.

At the moment, the progressive vision lacks the clarity and certainty of the 1930s or the 1960s. But there is an important distinction between our current muddled state, when clarity and unity are diminished, and the death of the vision altogether. We must not confuse the two. To say that the Left is struggling to find its way in a dramatically restructured political environment is accurate. But the fundamental principles around which the Left organizes its radical critique—liberty, equality and fraternity in the service of justice for those whose voices are not heard—are as alive and needed as ever.

Progressives must analyze how the Left became such a weak force. This promises to be a difficult process of self-criticism. Further, more and more people will have to come to the table to help to refine the progressive vision and correct its flaws and omissions. Meanwhile, liberal reforms have to be defended and pressure has to be applied to the few liberals still standing to keep them from waffling or quitting. This is not best done by disdaining or ignoring them.

Like it or not, progressives now must work with liberals, as well as with any other left-leaning sectors such as the Greens, to form a united front against the agenda of the Right. Pat Buchanan’s demonstrated ability to draw 30 percent of the vote in state after state in the recent presidential primaries is just one indicator of how important such a front is.

So, progressives, if you are angry and bitter over the loss of another liberal program killed off without even so much as a debate, don’t apologize. Don’t assume you have become soft on liberalism. This is a natural reaction – a product of this moment in history. And try not to dwell on those years past when there was more certainty, more idealism, and more hope; when working for real change was like moving downstream riding a current of historical inevitability. Now we are swimming against a tide that is thick with peril. The voice in the bubble of this cartoon is no longer saying “Follow that dream!” Now it is saying, “Time is running out. Focus. Get it together. Unite!”

Thanks to Rosario Morales, Dick Levins, Clarissa Atkinson, Denise Bergman, Pat Rathbone, Ruth Hubbard, and Francine Almash for their comments.


The Passing of our Dear Friend Jean Hardisty

Jean V. Hardisty, 1945 – 2015

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that PRA’s founder and President Emerita, Jean V. Hardisty, passed away early Monday morning. A cancer survivor, Jean was contending with a recurrence of lymphoma that proved surprisingly aggressive. She was home and surrounded by family at the time of her death.

Jean was a force in the lives of all who knew her. A visionary, she anticipated many of the political and economic shifts the country has endured over the past several decades. Undaunted by the implications of her insights, she dedicated herself tirelessly–and with uncommon skill, humor, and compassion–to the cause of social justice. She was a friend, mentor, colleague, and inspiration to us, and to countless people and organizations.

In an interview given a few years ago on the occasion of Political Research Associates’ 30th anniversary, Jean said:

I am grateful to live in “challenging times” and glad that I did not spend my life on the sidelines as the country has been ravaged by right-wing ideology, the Right’s devious tactics, and the mobilization of religion for political purposes.

We are deeply saddened by Jean’s passing. PRA will be honoring her life and work in the coming weeks and months.

Defending Justice: How Does Law & Order Play Out in Racial Terms?

In the United States, existing institutional, systemic, and individual racism magnify and reinforce this us/them dichotomy. Because the criminal justice system of every country serves as a means of control over some members of that society (and others who get caught up in it), it always reflects the need of the State for control, the political desire of leaders to stay in power, and the norms and mores of behavior favored by those leaders and usually supported by at least a portion of the society’s members. In a country with the racial history of the United States, we cannot be surprised that Whites have always controlled the criminal justice system and used it to control people of color, especially African Americans and increasingly all dark-skinned people, including those from the Middle East and South Asia.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

In the ideological and political campaign to promote “law and order,” conservative strategists have been careful to avoid any mention of its agenda’s racial implications. After arguing for criminalizing certain behaviors, especially drug consumption and distribution, they never mentioned how this would disproportionately affect communities of color (where the State’s arrests for such behavior are higher than in White and suburban communities). Some of the academics who promote law-and-order arguments have even maintained an identity as liberals, and claim to be writing in the interests of “the community.” Through this sleight of hand, rightist policymakers have constructed law-and-order policies as a series of supposedly race-neutral policies, although the outcome of these policies has been to criminalize, to a vastly disproportionate extent, the behaviors of certain targeted groups, especially racial minorities. Whether or not these law-and-order policies were intentionally racist may be open to debate, but many people, especially people of color, connect the dots and see their outcome as both intentional and systemic.

You might imagine that an increased emphasis on law and order would result in increased attention to all forms of law-breaking. But addressing police brutality and other forms of State violence clearly is not the focus of law-and-order policies. Nor is it the focus of the ideological camp that promotes these policies. Such neglect of a whole class of “victims”-those victimized by police or military power-supports the assertion that illegitimate race-based practices are the single most salient feature of the contemporary criminal justice system. Rightists often blatantly deny statistical evidence of unequal rates of incarceration, arrest, and punishment by race or class for identical crimes, as well as evidence of police and criminal justice officials’ presumption of guilt according to the race of the accused. Rightist Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., a prominent law-and-order proponent who inaccurately predicted a growing wave of “super-predator” children, stated that data on the administration of capital punishment “disclose no trace of racism..” But it is nearly impossible to study the discrepancies between incarceration rates for people of color and those of Whites for similar behaviors and not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.

Ideological Contradictions In Law-and-Order Policies

Each sector of the Right does not necessarily support the same policy solutions to the issues of crime and punishment. Various anti-crime policies create splits and disagreements within the Right. For example, rightist libertarians – who favor the most limited role possible for government – object to a punishment model that requires a huge investment of government funds, even when incarceration is privatized, and prisons eliminate training and treatment. The cost of building new prisons to house and police a swelling prison population increases government spending in both the long- and short-term. Between 1985 and 1995, states and the federal government opened one new prison a week to cope with the flood of inmates into the prison system. Much of this increase resulted from the increasing criminalization of non-violent offenders, through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentences, and drug laws. Referring to the many economic interests that now have a vested interest in maintaining high rates of incarceration, some critics, notably Angela Davis, have called this the emergence of a “prison-industrial complex.” Police departments, private prison corporations, unions of prison guards, rural communities eager for prison jobs, and businesses that provide prisons with food, security, and maintenance serve as pressure groups to assure the continuation of ever-increasing funding for prisons and to support tough on crime policies and drug laws that continually escalate rates of imprisonment.

Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Widespread imposition of the death penalty also creates dissonance for some rightists. Between 1995 and 2003, prisoners in the United States were executed at an average rate of one per week. Although execution is a more expensive form of punishment than life-long imprisonment (due to the cost to the State of legal appeals), until recently its use has been steadily increasing, driven, in large part, by the Secular Right. Some conservatives are disconcerted by the revelation, as a result of DNA testing, that innocent prisoners have been executed. Others more critical of the criminal justice system, have not been surprised by these cases.

Finally, some rightists are uneasy with the growth of federal domination over state criminal justice systems. Despite the traditional conservative commitment to “states’ rights,” criminal prosecutions usually conducted at the state level have increasingly been taken over by the federal government, as the law-and-order crime model has grown in influence. For decades, crimes that involve crossing state lines have been classified as federal crimes and are prosecuted in federal courts. Organized crime cases and many drug and firearms crimes have swelled the number of federal cases. But journalist Ted Gest describes a “creeping federalization of criminal prosecutions” of crimes that occur at the local level. Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Why would rightists persist in favoring these “big government” aspects of tough-on-crime policies? The prevention and rehabilitation model, which has largely been defunded, ultimately costs less in tax dollars because it addresses the causes of crime and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The answer lies in the ideological compatibility of apparently contradictory ideas when they are held within an overarching worldview that explains the contradictions. Two especially strongly held conservative beliefs are not subject to debate-criminals must be punished, and government should remain small. But “smallness” does not mean that the government should be weak. Thomas Hobbes’ admonition that States must establish a strong power that can exert control undergirds the idea that a massive program of incarceration is ideologically acceptable for conservatives who don’t believe in “big government.” In this case, many conservatives who believe that criminals are bad and must be punished in order to protect good, responsible (read White) people accept a strong role for government as appropriate and consistent with a conservative ideology. All sectors of the Right oppose the one policy solution that is most likely to solve the problem of crime in the long term-the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of Political Research Associate’s 2005 Activist Resource Kit, “Defending Justice.” The full kit is available here.
 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button


Conservatism: Racism When You Need It

2012 primary debate

In the Winter 1999 issue of The Public Eye Magazine, PRA printed an excerpt from Founder and President Emerita Jean Hardisty’s book Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. In it, Hardisty discussed affirmative action, providing the history of its conception along with the Right-Wing’s stance against the policy.

After the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson and his administration sought to eliminate discrimination in the hiring and promotion process by issuing Executive Order 11246, which required affirmation action from employers who had contracts with the federal government, and sanctions for the ones who didn’t. In 1972, Richard Nixon signed into law Congress’s Equal Opportunity Act, which expanded anti-discrimination protections for women and people of color. The Right, of course, cried “reverse discrimination” then, and is still finding ways to explain the “needlessness” for affirmative action now.

One of the Right’s tactics that Hardisty examined was their appropriation of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, which conservatives still interpret as an endorsement for colorblind ideology. The right has warped MLK from a radical for justice into essentially these few words: “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” They ignore the context of this quote, which addressed King’s opposition to White power, the root cause for judgment of race in the first place. In his 1964 book, Why Can’t We Wait, however, he made it evident that race is very important because, unless people of color are provided some type of assistance, their rights will never meet with that of White people’s. King wrote:

It is obvious that if a man is entering the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.

Hardisty discussed how the right had undergone a transformation in the 1980s, which created a “new racism.” Rather than upholding Jim Crow laws and practices—something that had “declined steadily since the 1940s”—the right attempted to use policies like affirmative action against people of color, utilizing a colorblind argument. This new racism, ignoring a person’s race, and suggesting that group identifiers are “unnecessary”—that cultural backgrounds have no place in today’s society because “racism is a thing of the past”— modernized discrimination in the hiring process.

Republicans, especially White male Republicans, expect marginalized groups to be able to rise above oppression on their own accord because, in their minds, race should not affect their merit and skill.

During the 2012 presidential primaries, Republican candidates played to this colorblind strategy. Mitt Romney objected to the extension of voting rights for convicted felons, despite it being “an issue that disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic males…[as] a direct result of…the drug wars implemented during the Reagan administration.” Newt Gingrich, when asked by Juan Williams about why Newt insisted on “talk[ing] about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” said he did not see why it was an insult to Black Americans. Rick Santorum, during one of his campaign stops, offered the statement, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” These Republicans refused to consider that institutionalized racism caused much of the disparities between White people and people of color—that somehow Black and Latino Americans were content with living off food stamps, or that they expected to be given free money, which are racist stereotypes and assumptions in and of itself.

Hardisty then went on to note the distancing of the Right from the Far Right’s White supremacy philosophy throughout the 1980s. While the Far Right—White supremacists and neo-Nazis—had no issue with openly promoting “White rights,” the Right Wing attempted to remove themselves from bigoted attitudes and activities. The New Right Republicans of the time, if discovered making racial slurs, were denounced quickly by their leaders and prompted to apologize soon afterward. This trend of immediate condemnation of racist statements made by conservatives is still present today. Some recent examples of this include:

By protesting against the most egregious of violations within their own Party, Republicans can defend against accusations of racism against themselves. To them, eradicating affirmative action is nothing like the overt racist language of their prejudiced peers.

Affirmative action cases are being closely watched today because of how race issues in the United States have developed. The Justices appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush—according to Jean Hardisty—have created a rightist tilt, and thus have halted much of the progress made by civil rights leaders. Evidence of this is found in their lack of ruling on the case at the University of Texas and their divided opinions on how to handle the case for Michigan schools.

In situations where affirmative action has already been banned, statistics show decreases in enrollment numbers of students of color, particularly for Black students. At the University of Michigan, Black student enrollment dropped 30 percent in their undergraduate and law schools after they prohibited race as a factor for consideration. After California’s passing of Proposition 209 in 1996, University of California schools found major drops as well; the percentage of first year Black students at UC Berkeley fell from 6.5 percent to under 3 percent in 10 years, and UCLA first years dropped from 7.3 percent to under 2.7 percent. The University of Florida also saw a decrease from 11.3 percent to 9.4 percent from 2000 to 2005 after the policy was changed.

Comparably, because the public-sector has historically provided fair and impartial job opportunities for women and people of color, government jobs show far more diversity than private institutions. Not only are the proportions of public-sector workers more balanced, they “face smaller wage disparities across racial lines” as well.

Hardisty noted that recipients of programs such as welfare and affirmative action are met with shaming by Right-Wing politicians. They were labeled as “‘undeserving’ individuals” who benefited “at the expense of ‘deserving’ taxpayers.” Present-day conservatives continue this victim-blaming and colorblind practice. During his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney called the “47 percent” who were going to vote for Barack Obama entitled, that they believed the “government has a responsibility to care for them.” He continued, “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” His statements were echoed by Glenn Beck, who said on his radio show, “That is the problem with government welfare and everything else, get a damn job,” and Newt Gingrich, who said “[Republicans] believe in work and education, [liberals] believe in food stamps and dependency.

The Right readily pretends that racial injustice does not exist, and that anyone can overcome obstacles if they simply tried hard enough, which is blatantly false.

In discussing how White the Right is, it is important to understand there are conservatives of color. Jean Hardisty discussed how they “play a politically important role in the Right’s attack on affirmative action.” By using a person of color, especially a Black person, to make their argument publicly, White conservatives can then use the “legitimacy” of that argument to back their own hostility. Denouncing affirmative action appears more authentic when a person of color says they have no need for it. White conservatives can shield themselves from the adverse reactions of people for trying to dismantle these policies.

It wasn’t hard to find examples. Just take a look at this year’s Values Voters Summit, when Dr. Ben Carson compared the Affordable Health Care Act to slavery. His talking point was immediately embraced by White conservatives such as Bill O’Brien, John Fleming, Rush Limbaugh, and more who would never have dared make such an audacious comparison on their own. His Blackness allows White republicans to say that their Black representative was the one to issue such a statement, not them. They can hide in the background—the focus on conservatives of color—while supporting the racist proclamations made by people such as Ben Carson.

When former Democrat Elbert Guillory announced why he switched to the Republican Party, calling for other Black Americans to abandon the “government plantation and the [liberal] party of disappointment,” pundits such as Glenn Beck had no issue publishing about it as if it were a step in the right direction.

Conservative activist Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posted an article on his website that said, “Wanting a White Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American,” written by Kevin Jackson, a Black conservative. Rather than writing this piece himself, Wurzelbacher used Jackson’s article as a means to voice his own opinions without taking on full responsibility.

Some members of the Right ironically reject affirmative action while favoring racist policies such as racial profiling. Writer and columnist Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece that advised individuals to “watch out if you see young black men on the street or approaching your house or vehicle—they commit ‘an inordinate amount of violent crime.’” On the other hand, he does not favor affirmative action, offering the question, “what exactly is the justification for affirmative action’s ethnic preferences or admissions [?]”

Conservatives claim that by discussing the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama is “race baiting;” yet they are colorblind when it comes to acknowledging the racial disparities that Black Americans go through in the United States, such as New York City’s Stop and Frisk program. Colorblindness ignores the racial discrimination that people of color go through on a daily basis.

As racial justice gains more in ways of equality, the right will continue to push back against it. While it’s clear conservatives continue their firm colorblind belief that any individual, regardless of race, can earn their way into a higher institution of learning or the workforce, revealing their hypocrisy and showing the actual race issues people of color face is the only way to make progress.

From the Archives: Righting Crime, Conservative Criminal Justice as Common Sense

Nine years ago, PRA published an article written by our founder Jean Hardisty, examining the conservative model of punishment that has dominated the criminal justice system. It examines both the philosophical debate about the nature of justice, and the scapegoating of minorities this conservative model has contributed to.

Since that article was published, the ‘on the ground’ reality in prisons has grown worse. The incarceration rate has increasingly dwarfed all other countries, ensuring that the prisons have become more crowded. A number of states, most notably California, have been struggling with both the logistical and budgetary challenges of full prisons. If the rate of incarceration is going to be slowed down, it will take serious sentencing reform. Unfortunately, ‘tough on crime’ promises still bring in the votes, and even if sentencing issues are addressed, we must question the role of the criminal justice system, and question its underlying motives and biases.

Contributing to the pressure of an overcrowded prison system, increased private sector involvement in the prison system has created perverse incentives and in some cases led to inhumane conditions. The Right-Wing has pushed for prison privatization, and in turn, private prison corporations have grown increasingly powerful. These corporations, unlike state governments, only stand to gain from harsher prison sentencing. In addition, as many have observed, one of the few mechanisms through which these corporations can reduce costs is through “employing fewer guards and other workers, and by paying them badly.” There is also some evidence showing “a heightened level of violence against prisoners in private institutions,” possibly due to fewer, lower paid, and less experienced staff. The ACLU also filed a lawsuit against a private Mississippi correctional facility, documenting appalling conditions and mistreatment of inmates, including regular fires in solitary confinement, sometimes lit by inmates to get the attention of guards, failing to intervene in and possibly encouraging fights, and in one case, finding an inmate dead after spraying excessive amounts of mace into his cell. While neglect of this nature certainly exists in the state run prison system as well, the incentives of private prison corporations only exacerbate the situation.

In order to tackle our soaring level of incarceration, we need to question what we expect of our correctional facilities. The answer is in the name. We need to push back against the tough on crime message, and increasingly lengthy sentences, and make our prisons ‘correctional.’ Prison overcrowding has become enough of a problem that sentences are being reduced as is, but that change is merely a stop-gap, without comprehensive policy ensuring inmates can integrate back into society, and make re-offending an unappealing option. In doing so, not only do shorter sentences work well, but have the potential to cut crime in the long term.

While recidivism rates are not necessarily directly comparable, in Sweden, where they have just closed four prisons due to a massive drop in prison admissions, their recidivism rate is by any measure lower than that of the US. To prevent recidivism, part of the solution has to be ensuring that ex-prisoners are employed, or at the very least employable, and focusing on eliminating the need for former convicts to resort to crime to make a living.

Simmering under the huge incarceration rate is the massive ethnic disparity in sentencing. According to one study, one in three African American men will go to prison at some point in their lives, and they receive sentences nearly 20 percent longer than white men, for similar crimes. As Hardisty’s article states, it is impossible to “not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.” Furthermore, this glaring inequality filters back into society, with ex-felons finding employment out of reach. In some states, the disenfranchisement of ex-felons can even determine electoral outcomes, as might have been the case in the recent elections in Virginia.

Underlying possible changes to the role of the criminal justice system, is the need to make reforms that tackle crime in the long term, through, as Hardisty puts it, “the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.”

Political advantages of longer prison sentences aside, the continuously increasing incarceration rates are imposing enormous monetary costs on individual states. In many states, funding the prison system is becoming a substantial burden in its own right. Perhaps we can take this opportunity to reform the criminal justice system, and possibly go further to redirect “attention to the root causes of crime, such as poverty, abuse, addiction, and lack of opportunity, and by challenging the demonization and scapegoating of ‘criminals.’”

FROM THE ARCHIVES: “Rights for Some,” the Erosion of Democracy by U.S. Conservatives


Right-wing leaders often appropriate progressive themes by calling for rule by “the people,” equal opportunity, and “equality” feminism. Their rhetoric has convinced many voters that the Right offers a more fair and direct form of democratic representation than that offered by liberals and progressives.1 But an accurate analysis of the Right’s agenda reveals that, while it embraces the rhetoric of democracy, it promotes a constricted, shrunken version of democracy. It’s a version that resembles the United States political landscape before the New Deal reforms of the 1930s and 1940s. By defining democracy in its narrowest sense, the contemporary Right claims the mantle of democracy, even though, since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, its campaigns, policies, and initiatives have attacked democratic principles and undermined democratic practices.

Progressives have a gut-level understanding that the Right is anti-democratic, so when we fight the Right’s agenda, we often say we are “defending democracy.” But what exactly do we mean by that? How do progressives define the “democracy” that we are defending? What definition of democracy does the Right use? What change does the Right intend to bring to society as a whole? What is its overarching vision, and how does that vision alter democracy as progressives define it?

Read our full 2001 report by Jean Hardisty

Drifting Right and Going Wrong: An Overview of the U.S. Political Right

By Chip Berlet and Jean Hardisty

Our country is in the midst of the longest period of right-wing reaction against movements seeking equality, social justice, and economic fairness since the period of Reconstruction in the south. We picture hooded Ku Klux Klan nightriders carrying torches and lighting crosses when we think of this late 19th century turmoil. We tend to forget the societal institutions and systems that also played a role in creating oppression for Blacks and preserving privilege for Whites.

Now, in the early twenty-first century, the attacks on social and economic justice predominantly take the form of state and national legislation passed by mainstream politicians. The right-wing backlash today is targeted at a subtler “enemy.” It is no longer simply African Americans who are portrayed as less than deserving citizens. Today the electoral Right uses an allegedly “colorblind” template to identify those who are outside acceptable norms of morality and family values. So, it is welfare “queens,” lesbians and gay men of all races, and “illegal aliens” (to name just a few) who are, by virtue of their identity, living an un-American life.  In fact, anyone who is not Christian is suspect, especially Muslims.  Jews are accepted as allies to the extent that they sign onto the Right’s agenda.  Meanwhile, virulently antisemitic Extreme Right groups, including the neonazis, continue to advocate for White supremacy, promoting their agenda by recruiting young people to a vision of an idyllic “White America.”

Those who want to successfully challenge the Right’s policies need to understand that not all sectors of the U.S. Right are alike. There are multiple networks of organizations and funders with differing and sometimes competing agendas. Different ideas and methods are used in various right-wing social and political movements. No one organization “controls” the political Right. No single deep-pocket funder is “behind” the Right. Some large organizations are important, but many others appear to be more influential than they really are.

Traditional Republican Party conservatism is composed of several sectors, including corporate conservatives, moderate conservatives, libertarians, and neoconservatives. In addition, the Political Right includes other sectors such as the Christian Right, the Patriot movement, and the Extreme Right. Critics need to sharpen their focus and examine the details. It is not fair to equate the Ku Klux Klan with the Christian Right. It is fair to criticize anti-democratic aspects of both movements.

The Christian Right, for example, has no qualms about denouncing the Klan and other groups on the Extreme Right that promote naked White supremacy and antisemitism, or that use aggressive intimidation or insurgent violence. A few zealots in the Christian Right use violence to oppose abortion, but Christian Right activists overwhelmingly work for reforms through legislation and support for candidates for public office. Some of these reforms, however, would deny certain civil rights protections to people who step outside heterosexual monogamy. The Christian Right urges women to adopt “traditional” roles that are secondary and submissive to men. Calls to make this country a Christian nation implicitly promote the idea that Jews and other non-Christians are second-class citizens. Much of Christian Right ideology privileges the culture of White northern Europeans at the expense of diversity and a pluralistic model of democracy. So while the ultraconservative Christian Right and the Extreme Right are separate movements, they pull the society in the same direction, even while remaining critical of each other’s groups, leaders, and plans.

Meanwhile, the Patriot movement occupies a middle ground between the Christian Right and the Extreme Right. The Patriot movement represents a type of right-wing populism that periodically surfaces on the U.S. political landscape. Its most visible recent aspect was the armed “citizens militias” that flourished in the mid 1990s. The militia movement now has largely collapsed, but there is still a flourishing Patriot subculture with groups such as the John Birch Society and the website www.freerepublic.com serving as typical examples. People in the Patriot movement see the world through the lens of conspiracy, believing the government to be controlled by secret elites and fearing tyrannical government repression. Many deny the bigoted antisemitic aspect of their conspiracism or the White supremacist lineage of their bogus “constitutionalist” states’ rights legal arguments. Some early militia leaders came out of Extreme Right hate groups, and often tried to mask their bigotry to attract a larger audience.

Pat Buchanan is a key figure in this Patriot sector, where his brand of xenophobic nationalism finds an enthusiastic audience. Patriot leaders take fears over the economy, corporate globalization, and downsizing and focus them onto scapegoats, ranging from immigrants and people of color to the United Nations. Many in the militias, for example, blame their slipping social and economic status on an alleged government conspiracy to build a global New World Order. Sometimes people in the Patriot movement try to recruit from progressive groups involved in antiwar or anti-globalization organizing.

Participants in the Christian Right represent a different demographic group. They are often upwardly mobile suburbanites who are members of conservative Protestant evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist churches. These churches are growing rapidly across the country, while moderate or liberal Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ are losing members in record numbers. Not all members of conservative Protestant churches are active in the Christian Right, but it is within these churches that people are recruited and mobilized into social movements and political campaigns.

Those that join Christian Right groups, such as Concerned Women for America, tend to get much of their information about politics and world events not from network television and daily newspapers but through media produced by the Christian Right – including magazines, radio programs, television evangelists, and direct mail. These sources frequently portray a world awash in sin, with liberals, feminists, peaceniks, homosexuals and other subversives undermining a godly America. The Christian Right is the largest social movement in the United States, and the biggest voting bloc in the Republican Party.

Within the Republican Party, the Christian Right competes with more secular, upstart free market libertarianism and button down business conservatism for dominance. Activists from all three ideologies are appointed to federal and state agencies and join debates over public policy, swamping calls for progressive reforms. This can create confusion for proponents of affirmative action or humane welfare policies who find themselves defending their views against three different sets of negative arguments. A local school board can find its comprehensive sex education curriculum under attack from libertarians who claim it is a waste of tax dollars, conservatives who claim it is an inappropriate diversion from the core curriculum, and Christian Right activists who claim it is immoral.

A network of national and state-level conservative think tanks churn out educational and research materials for their activists and sympathetic politicians and journalists. This explains why campaigns over school vouchers, sentencing guidelines, union dues, and faith-based initiatives seem to sweep across the country in waves. The Right’s intellectual infrastructure began to be built in earnest in the late 1970s and matured in the mid 1980s. Examples of national think tanks include the Heritage Foundation for business conservatives, the Cato Institute for libertarians, and the Free Congress Foundation for the Christian Right. Through the synergy of research, publications, and conferences a variety of ideas are debated, slogans sharpened, and campaigns launched. Conservative foundations and corporations have learned to fund strategically, while most centrist and progressive foundations are reluctant to fund movement-building, for instance the type of infrastructure of the type that has been so successful for the Political Right.

In the 1950s academics popularized the idea that people who joined right-wing (and left wing) social and political movements were a “lunatic fringe” of “extremists” who suffered from some psychological malady. But most scholars now see right-wing activists (and activists in general) as relatively average people, recruited by friends into groups that offer a reasonable-sounding plan to solve political, economic, cultural, or social problems. This is true even for some people who join the many small neonazi groups, and it is certainly true for those active in more mainstream right-wing movements. Their recruitment of average concerned people is the result of a carefully planned campaign to restore the Right to dominance in the Republican Party and the country as a whole.

How did the Political Right gain so much power? After World War II the political Right faced four major hurdles in building a successful movement: it was identified as a club for wealthy elitists; it was fractured by internal feuds; it was seen as a safe harbor for racists; and it tolerated a nest of conspiracy theorists, some of whom were antisemites.

In the mid 1950s, William F. Buckley, Jr. and a group of his Old Right conservative intellectual allies set out to restore the image and power of the Right, using Buckley’s magazine National Review as the vehicle for debate.  Known as “fusionists,” they were determined to roll back the social welfare policies of Roosevelt’s New Deal at home by building a conservative coalition composed of economic libertarianism, social traditionalism, and militant anticommunism. Professor Jerome L. Himmelstein explains that “The core assumption that binds these three elements is the belief that American society on all levels has an organic order––harmonious, beneficent, and self–regulating––disturbed only by misguided ideas and policies, especially those propagated by a liberal elite in the government, the media, and the universities.” The fusionists began speaking out against overt White supremacy and antisemitism, and ostracized the John Birch Society for its paranoid-sounding conspiracy theories.

In the late 1970s a group of conservative strategists who had been active in the failed 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign began to formulate a “family values” agenda that held enormous appeal for traditionalist conservatives of the Republican Party and the burgeoning Christian evangelical population.  The coalition really jelled in 1979, when Robert Billings of the National Christian Action Council invited rising televangelist Jerry Falwell to meet conservative organizers Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, Richard Viguerie, and Ed McAteer. They wanted to use abortion as a wedge issue to split social conservative traditionalists away from the Democratic Party. Falwell took their idea of a “Moral Majority,” and turned into an organization. This emerging movement became known as the “New Right” and it built a conservative voting base, provided foot soldiers for what became known as the Culture War, and captured the Republican Party.

After the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during Ronald Reagan’s second Administration, militant anticommunists focused on opposing big government, bureaucratic regulations, liberal collectivism, and godless secular humanism here at home. This allowed the fusionist coalition to continue into the new millennium. The electoral political Right still seeks coalition among its different sectors, but tolerates substantial disagreement over specific policy questions. For instance libertarians often support abortion, gay, and immigrant rights and defend civil liberties, in opposition to many business conservatives and Christian Right traditionalists. But libertarians will join with these other right-wing sectors to support tax cuts and harsh punitive sentencing of criminals.

Simultaneously, a new partner in the conservative coalition emerged. Neoconservatives were former liberals–who had supported the Cold War against communism–who then shifted their concern to what they saw as a rising threat of global terrorism. They tend to be strong supporters of aggressive Israeli policies in the Middle East, and suspicious of Islamic militants. They support global U.S. military intervention that is both pre-emptive and unilateral, and have significantly influenced U.S. foreign policy since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Neoconservatives joined with the Christian Right to support “traditional” moral values–which translates to attacks on the feminist, reproductive rights, and GLBT movements. They seek to pack the state and federal court system, including the U.S. Supreme Court, with appointees who share their ultra-conservative viewpoints.

Key to the success of the new conservative coalition of the 1980s and 1990s was the use of populist-sounding rhetoric to mobilize resentment among predominantly White middle class and working class constituencies, especially men. Playing on anger over the erosion of traditional privileges, along with more legitimate fears over economic and social crises, the political Right skillfully demonized target groups and promoted scapegoating stories about waves of criminal immigrants and lazy welfare queens—stories that usually carried a racist subtext. It replaced overt racist rhetoric with what rightist leaders call a “colorblind” political agenda. They claim the legislation prompted by the Civil Rights Movement ended the need for government action against discrimination and racism, and then systematically oppose all government programs aimed at redressing the effects of ongoing institutional racism

Right-wing populist rhetoric masks the fact that changes in the tax code and other economic initiatives pursued by the Right in the 1980s and 1990s overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, and created vast disparities between the rich and poor. Yet these initiatives were presented as reforms to stop the “tax robbery” of average citizens by government bureaucrats labeled as corrupt and incompetent.

Tax cuts invariably defund those programs of the federal government that seek to help impoverished constituencies, enforce laws against discrimination, and protect the environment. At the same time, federal funds have been shifted to build a huge infrastructure for the military, and various “anti-terrorism” programs of “homeland security” that have seriously eroded civil liberties.

This history helps explain how the political Right rose to its position of power and now dominates policy debates. The ascendance of right-wing political power over government policies may seem less dramatic than the vigilantism of the militias or the murderous terror of Extreme Right race hate groups, but it has resulted in a dramatic erosion of civil rights, civil liberties, and basic human rights for many people in our country. The sectors of the Right may work separately, but together they continue to pull the nation away from the goal of building a truly fair and equitable democratic society.

**Ed. Note: A version of this article first appeared in early 2003 in the NCJW Journal, Winter 2002, pp. 8-11.

The Resurgent Right: Why Now?

**This article appeared in the Fall, 1995 issue of The Public Eye magazine**

For those who have worked to further social justice and democratic values in the United States, the election of November 8, 1994 was a defeat. The election results indicate that the American public has repudiated the liberalism that has been the dominant method of social reform since the New Deal. The resurgent right has consolidated its power and is now implementing its agenda. There appears to be a new mood of meanness that expresses itself in spiteful ridicule of liberals, feminists, environmentalists, and those in a weak or dependent position, such as welfare recipients and immigrants. The response from liberals, progressives, and centrists alike has been a mixture of anger, disbelief, denial, and paralysis.

“…we have to say to the counterculture: Nice try, you failed, you’re wrong. And we have to simply, calmly, methodically reassert American civilization and reestablish the work ethic.”
Newt Gingrich, Contract with America

“Our political landscape is a toxic dump.”
Bill Moyers Perspective, NBC News, March 7, 1995

This is not the first time the United States has swung dramatically to the right. Periodically throughout US history, right-wing forces have thrived, promoting such themes as white supremacy, scapegoating of Jews, violent opposition to unions, and rabid anti-communism. During Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War racial hatred was mobilized to destroy gains made by Blacks, and then in the 1920s racial scapegoating created a period of unchecked lynchings of Black men. Immigrants, Catholics, and Jews were scapegoated as “carriers of socialism” and “Papal loyalists” during the first several decades of this century,and union members were violently attacked during the 1930s. The communist witchhunts of the McCarthy era in the 1950s is a recent example of rightist resurgence.

The history of US government repression of dissenters, the imperialistic adventures of the 19th and 20th centuries, the grim record of racism directed against people of color that dates to slavery, and the resistance to extending full rights to women are consistent and persistent themes in US history. In truth, a close examination of that history reveals it is more often out of sync with democratic values than aligned with them.

Just 20 years ago it looked as if this dismal historical record might be overcome. Certain commitments to equality and justice had been established in American political culture. These commitments were expressed in policy reforms, such as guaranteed access to the vote, legal services for the poor, or food and shelter for the elderly, the disabled, and those who cannot provide for themselves. These reformist policies tended to cluster under the general heading of liberalism, with those who saw liberalism’s reforms as inadequate to bring about real equality and justice- the left and progressives- acting as agents of conscience to expose the failings and shortcomings of liberalism.

Now the political swing to the right is so complete that liberalism has become a political orphan: not because it is a compromised ideology of reform, but because it has been painted as socialism in disguise. Secular humanism- one ideological source of enlightened liberal reformism- is now under attack from religious fundamentalism. The left, defeated and in disarray, is unable to exploit the widespread disillusionment with liberalism to promote its own analysis. Altogether, these political conditions add up to a formidable package of reaction which has an iron grip on the country.1 It is not surprising that those least able to protect themselves will suffer most from the right’s power grab. The growing gap between rich and poor is simply the most obvious indicator of the fate of the poor and dependent.

Mindful that we have been here before, the obvious question is Why Now? This is not a moment created simply by the hard work of a few right-wing white male leaders; nor is it entirely a product of the potential for repression and inequality inherent in capitalism; nor is it merely a swing of the political pendulum, a backlash against women, a result of the collapse of the family, a spiritual crisis; or any of the other magic bullet explanations that have been popularized since the alarming political debut of the New Right in 1980. Each of these explanations gets at an aspect of the country’s rightward swing.

This discussion will address the US right within the electoral sphere, and right-wing movements that operate within the Republican Party. Variously called the New Right, the new Republicans, the Religious Right, or the hard right, this sector does not include the extremist, paramilitary right, such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups, the Aryan Nations, and other violent white supremacist groups. Violent members of the anti-abortion movement, Christian Reconstructionists, David Duke, Pat Buchanan, and Pat Robertson represent “bridges” that link these two sectors. Though the paramilitary right is not discussed here, much of what is said in this article applies to that sector as well.

The complexity of a full explanation cannot be exaggerated. There are too many factors at play to say with certainty what they all are, or how much each contributes. However, that must not prevent a good-faith effort to lay out ideas and interpretations that hold the potential for insight. In order to chart a course for the next decade, it is important to assess the 1994 election, the mood of the country in general, and especially the apparent sweeping success of the right in hopes that such an understanding will provide some guidance for action.

An explanation that attempts to be comprehensive must take into account the widespread public sentiment that is finding expression in the right, and also the role of the leadership of the right in creating and mobilizing that sentiment. This discussion will draw on both factors in attempting to explain the contemporary rise of the right. To organize the discussion, I suggest that we take one step back in the causal chain and focus on five major economic, social, and political forces that provide the setting for the expression of a rightist agenda, and thereby underlie the success of the resurgent right. These forces are:

  1. a conservative religious revitalization,
  2. economic contraction and restructuring,
  3. race resentment and bigotry,
  4. backlash and social stress, and
  5. a well-funded network of right-wing organizations.

Each of these conditions has existed at previous times in US history. While they usually overlap to some extent, they also can be seen as distinct, identifiable phenomenon. The lightning speed of the right’s rise can be explained by the simultaneous existence of all five factors. Further, in this period they not only overlap, but reinforce each other. This mutual reinforcement accounts for the exceptional force of the current rightward swing.

In fact, the right has created a juggernaut- an overwhelming force that has now gained state power. For many progressives and liberals, the specter of fascism is alarming. That alarm is justified. We must remember that fascism begins as a mass movement that combines reactionary political policies and revolutionary fervor. The contemporary right combines a set of reactionary social policies with the fervor provided by fundamentalist religious beliefs and long-standing racism. That is hauntingly similar to the Weimar Republic in Germany, where the fervor was provided by nationalism rather than religious convictions. Further, the alienation created by a restructuring of the economy that is negatively affecting large numbers of workers can be compared with other economic settings in which fascism has attained power. Howard Phillips, an early New Right leader who is a right-wing ideological purist, has said, “The French Revolution was, to some degree, fueled by economic concerns. So I think what will trigger [a right-wing Christian revolution] is the economic problems.” (Stan: 1995)

One important distinction between the US setting and other settings in which fascism has risen is that the US right’s leadership is driven by fairly rigid ideological principles. Fascist leadership is characterized by craven opportunism- an apparent lack of consistent political principles that allows the leadership to change its ideology in order to adapt whatever strategy is necessary to attain and consolidate state power. Another distinction is that in the contemporary right there is not one leader who serves as the strongman. These differences are important, but it is not far-fetched to fear that the appearance of a right-wing charismatic leader with exceptional political skills might create the environment that would transform the current right-wing resurgence into fascism.


In the United States, as in many places throughout the world, there is a dramatic growth in the number and influence of people who identify themselves as religious fundamentalists. In fact, it can be argued that the US is in the midst of a religious revitalization. The term “revitalization movement” has been used by anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace in a classic 1956 essay to describe a conscious, organized effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture by seeking to bring about change in the whole cultural system, or at least substantial parts of the system (Wallace, 1956, 264-281). 2

People create a revitalization movement because they perceive that a part of the society’s cultural system is unsatisfactory. Their discontent leads them to commit themselves to work with urgency for an intended shift in the society’s worldview. The catalyst for dissatisfaction can be social stress caused by outside forces (such as war or famine) or social imbalances caused by changes within the society. That is, when people feel ill at ease within their society, or feel that they are losing ground relative to their expectations, they will often turn to religion as a vehicle for the restoration of meaning, purpose, and comfort in their lives. Their explicit goal is to revitalize their society through movement activism.

Wallace identifies a type of revitalization movement which he calls a “revivalistic movement.” We are all familiar with the American religious tradition of the “revival meeting”- part entertainment, part inspiration, and often depicted as a traveling “show” that came to small towns. The meetings featured charismatic preachers who won converts to a very conservative version of Christianity. It is associated with an earlier, more innocent and less sophisticated time, when people were less influenced by the media and peer pressure was the major disciplinary force in small-town and rural settings.

Revivalistic movements are an extension of the concept of a revival meeting. They are movements that appeal to large numbers of recruits because they emphasize the customs, values, and even the natural world that were thought to have been characteristic of previous, more satisfactory times. The movement’s strength comes from its promise that it will restore these characteristics which have been lost in the corruption of the contemporary world. When revivalistic movements are religious in nature, it is religious values revered in the past, such as the importance of adherence to a literal reading of biblical teaching, that inspire people’s interest in religious values as a source of healing and restoration. The movement’s message may even create a sense of longing for qualities now lost.

The contemporary movement known as the Religious Right is such a revivalistic movement. Based on evangelical, fundamentalist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Reconstructionist religious practices and values, it is made up of a broad array of very conservative Christian sectors, augmented by much smaller conservative religious sectors of Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam.

The political power of the Religious Right is nearly unprecedented in US history. With the exception of mobilizations against the teaching of evolution, a prominent role in the promotion of the restrictions of Prohibition, and the supportive efforts of many Black churches in the civil rights struggle, Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals have, in 20th century US history, most often been only marginally involved in politics and political activism. Though Father Charles Coughlin, the reactionary and anti-Semitic “radio priest” of the 1930s, and a few other charismatic, firebrand preachers rabble-roused for political goals, rank-and-file fundamentalist and evangelical religious sects have, for the most part, stayed out of the power struggles of the political sphere.

There were solid theological reasons for this lack of involvement in politics. For those who read the Bible literally, the focus is on the “end times”- an area of Christian theology formally known as eschatology. There is an important theological debate about the nature of the end times, a debate between those who are pre-millenialists and those who are post-millenialists. The differences between these two positions are so important that it was previously very difficult to bring the two groups together.

As predicted in the Book of Revelations certain events will happen when the world ends. These include the Rapture; a period of chaos known as the Tribulations; the return of Christ; and a thousand years of peace and harmony under his rule or that of his saints. For those who take the Bible literally, the prescription for a virtuous life is one spent in preparation for this Second Coming of Christ. Thus, involvement in day-to-day political struggles in contemporary secular society held little interest. Focused on the future, the moral health and godliness of this material world was somewhat irrelevant.

When the New Right began its political recruitment of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists in the 1970s, it faced the question of how to bring them into the political sphere. It was crucial that shrewd organizing skills and convincing theological arguments be developed to inspire and justify their political involvement. A further complication lay in the division between pre-millenialists and post-millenialists about the nature of the Second Coming. For pre-millenialists, great events will precede the return of Christ- perhaps a rapture of Christian believers into heaven, but definitely a period of Tribulation which will culminate in the final battle of Armageddon. Only then will Christ return to rule on earth for one thousand years; this period’s end will mark the end of history. For post-millenialist evangelicals and fundamentalists, the great events of Rapture, Tribulation and Armageddon will follow the millennium. During the millennium, which some post-millenialists believe has begun, God’s elect will rule the earth. God’s elect are self-evidently Christian, and they bear a heavy burden to rule in a way befitting Christian principles. (Diamond; 1989)

Each theological position (and I have named only two here) dictates a different order of commitments in the conduct of daily life. In order to capture the large US evangelical and fundamentalist population for a massive political mobilization, the New Right’s religious leadership had to develop arguments that harmonized the differences and placed political activism at the top of all those different lists of commitments.

Two such arguments have achieved wide acceptance. First, whether one is a pre-millenialist or a post-millenialist, it can be argued that to do God’s work here on earth is to oppose earthly evil at all times. Because moral decay and behavior not consistent with biblical teachings are evil, they should be actively opposed. Second, agreement has emerged that it is Christians who have been given dominion (rule) over the earth by God. Thus it is wrong and worthy of opposition when secular persons inappropriately take that dominion. These arguments compel the involvement of evangelicals and fundamentalists (and charismatics and Pentecostals) in contemporary politics. Further, they resonate strongly with the “values” questions that are at the center of the agenda of both the religious and secular right.

Certain individuals, especially Robert Billings, Ed McAteer, Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and, most recently, Pat Robertson get credit for recruiting Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals into politics. They organized in the 1970s, at a time when the number of citizens identifying themselves as born-again Christians was skyrocketing. By the 1980s, Christian revivalism had become a movement: a locus of righteous fervor, individual meaning, and political organizing. As early as 1981, a Gallup Poll found that 38 percent of the population claimed to have been “born-again.” (Gallup Opinion Index, 184: 1-77) While not all those born-again Christians are fundamentalists, nearly all are evangelicals.3

As this growth occurred, so too did the political sophistication of the Christian Right leadership. The strategic decision in the 1970s to take the movement into electoral politics, specifically within the Republican Party, was evidence of this growing interest in political power. (Diamond: 1995) Mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches, meanwhile, were plagued with low growth, dwindling finances, and a decline in those entering the priesthood or ministry.

The footsoldiers of the Religious Right precisely meet Wallace’s definition of members of a society who are dissatisfied and driven to introduce a new worldview. In this case, dissatisfaction over “moral decay” which they see as resulting from secular values was augmented by decline in their own status in society. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists felt that their lifestyle and values had become devalued and in many cases nearly invisible, at least in popular culture. Such feelings of status deprivation and conflict with the dominant values are powerful forces that promote a sense of alienation.

Equally important is the positive pull of the Christian Right. Membership in a movement- in this case one with a spiritual dimension- offers an antidote to a sense of alienation. Further, the theological authoritarianism characteristic of New Right Christian groups provides rules to live by and answers to life’s problems with absolute clarity, not fuzzy relativism. Thus, it is no surprise that activists in the Christian Right score exceptionally high on tests of intolerance. In a 1990/91 stratified random sampling of members of Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, one of the largest Religious Right organizations, and activists in Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America, researchers associated with the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron found that only 2 percent of Concerned Women for America activists and 6 percent of Focus on the Family members agreed with the statement, “A diversity of moral views is healthy.” (Smidt et al: 1994) This is a frightening statistic to those who rely on, or simply support, social tolerance and open-mindedness.

What does a growing and politically powerful Christian revivalistic movement mean for Jews in the US? Many conservative Jews may feel a similar sense of alienation from secular society and threat to their traditional religious practices, but it is unlikely that the Christian Right can provide answers that are satisfactory for Jews.

Certainly there are Jews who align themselves with the Christian Right- an example is the conservative Jewish group Toward Tradition, headed by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Lapin argues that the proper practice of Jewish faith dictates a belief in moral values that are more closely aligned with those of conservative Christians than with those of liberals whose secular humanism runs against the grain of religious practice.

Another argument for Jewish support for the Christian Right is its consistent support for Israel. Because conservative Christian biblical teachings maintain that the Jews must return to Israel in order for the Second Coming to occur, the Christian Right has firmly supported US aid to Israel. The role of Israel as a buffer against communism in the Middle East was another appealing aspect of this alliance. For Jews who equate support for Israel with support for Jews, the Christian Right is a dependable and valuable ally.

Nevertheless, the relationship between Jews and the Christian Right is a source of considerable debate within the Jewish community. For, in fact, the political platform of the Religious Right promotes the return of America to its Christian roots. The slogan “America is a Christian country” has been the Christian Right’s motto. Their advocacy for prayer in schools and the erosion of a separation between church and state inevitably implies discrimination against Jews. Worse yet is the Christian Right’s belief that those who are not born-again are not in an appropriate relationship with God.

Even in its support for Israel, the Christian Right has simultaneously pursued a greater Christian presence in Israel and proselytized for Jews to convert to Christianity. (Mouly: 1985)

Despite the recent Christian Right practice of referring to their religious beliefs as “Judeo-Christian,” and the recent statement by Ralph Reed that he had not realized that the slogan “America is a Christian country” might be offensive to Jews, there is a substantial part of the Jewish community that remains suspicious that the Christian Right is anti-Semitic. A recent, long-overdue publication by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith presents a thorough and accurate review of the beliefs and practices of major Religious Right organizations. This book, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, presents clear evidence of the latent and active anti-Semitism that runs throughout the Christian Right. (Cantor: 1994)

The writings of Rev. Pat Robertson, whose Christian Coalition is now the pre-eminent organization of the Christian Right, are especially revealing. In his 1994 book, The New World Order, Robertson presents his own variation on a long-standing anti-Semitic conspiracy theory- a sinister plot by secret elites to rule the world, financed by Jewish bankers. Thus we see the leader of the Christians Right’s largest and most powerful organization publishing blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric as “education” for his members. (Lind: 1995)

Much like its anti-Semitism, the misogyny of the Religious Right is not always explicit. Women appear to be accorded very high respect within the tenets of conservative Christianity. In fact, one of the Christian Right’s largest and most active organizations is Concerned Women for America, a Christian women’s organization headed by Beverly LaHaye. LaHaye teaches that it is in her religion and her family that a woman finds her greatest fulfillment, not in the incorrect and misled principles of feminism. She leads her members to demonize and mobilize against liberal women by portraying them as pleasure-seeking, man-hating, and secular-minded purveyors of sex, abortion, and divorce.

For conservative Christian women, the proper place of the woman in the home is beneath the authority of her husband, who in turn is beneath the authority of God. Far from being a place of subservience, this is a woman’s life in its natural form, as intended by God and by a Godly society. Leadership should be in the hands of men; thus, it is entirely appropriate that in the case of the anti-abortion movement- perhaps the first of the New Right’s “social issues” to bring together a coalition of secular and religious rightists- the movement has consistently been led primarily by men.

In addition to its opposition to a range of reproductive rights that give women some control over their own bodies, the Religious Right opposes equal pay, single motherhood, sex education in the schools, lesbianism, feminist curriculum, and even daycare. Logically then, the women’s movement’s struggle for equality and independence for women is considered to be wrong by conservative Christian women. It is, in fact, seen as threatening to the health of the society as a whole.

The Christian Right’s agenda for women is explicitly anti-feminist, but perhaps more dangerous is its implicit attack on poor women. Because women are divided into those who are worthy (living by Godly practices) and unworthy (engaging in an ungodly lifestyle), many poor women who receive AFDC assistance, are single mothers, or are otherwise independent of men but dependent on the state, are also to be condemned. The Christian Right’s support for welfare “reform,” given that a majority of welfare recipients are women, belies any claim of concern for all women.

In fact, even conservative Christian women can become targets within the Christian Right. The evangelical men’s organization known as The Promise Keepers, which draws tens of thousands of men to its rallies in big-city stadiums, encourages men to take back the leadership within the family that they have given over to their wives through their own weakness and sloth. If the wife is not willing to give back the leadership of the family, then the Promise Keepers are urged to “take it back.” (Italics in original) (Evans, 1994)

To the extent that mainstream feminist goals are associated with liberalism, both the secular and religious right can be expected to portray feminists as abnormal, predatory, and dangerous. That is not surprising. It is notable, however, that conservative Christian women collaborate in the demonization of poor women, especially women receiving welfare, and women who are judged to have made mistakes. In their respect for and trust in authority, right-wing women find dignity and a sense of security and order in their proper and natural place under the authority of men. It is far less virtuous to pursue a wrong-headed notion of equality than to behave appropriately and be assured of respect. (Dworkin: 1983) For those women who do not understand the need for women to remain in their place and make the necessary sacrifices, there is disapproval that often turns to disgust and disdain.

Economic Contraction, Redistribution, Restructuring

The US economy, once based in industrial capital, is being structurally transformed by the declining significance of industrial production and the increasing role played by finance capital and the service and information sectors of the economy. The loss of US blue-collar industrial jobs, as even small corporations now locate production facilities in Third World countries, combined with the downsizing of lower and middle management corporate structures, have left a large part of the US workforce dislocated and disillusioned.

Much of the motivation for this restructuring comes from greater international competition, which has necessitated increasingly speculative business behavior in order to maintain a high level of profits. Profits now are chased with increasingly arcane schemes- including the takeovers, mergers, and buy-outs of the 1980s, which have continued in the 1990s.

How does the contemporary right-wing political movement relate to the changing US economic scene? In order to understand a part of the political motivation of the right, it is important to identify the economic interests it represents. It is clear that the right’s economic agenda (corporate tax cuts, changes in tax rates to benefit the wealthy, deregulation, privatization, anti-union legislation, and defunding the left) benefits business interests and high-income individuals. Yet there is conflict within the economic elite- with some corporate interests aligning with the right, while some align with the moderate wing of the Republican Party, and some with the Democrats. It is not until the differing interests of various sectors of business are distinguished that this conflict makes sense.

In the late 1970s, when the New Right became the focus of media attention, its leadership openly declared its allegiance to venture capitalism. Based largely in the West, especially the Southwest and California, and to a lesser extent in the South, venture capitalism represents a sector of corporate business that is young, often small and independent, and characterized by high risk. Oil, electronics, software, and some pharmaceutical companies are examples. In contrast, larger, older, multinational corporate entities, such as the “blue chip” companies often located in the Midwest and North Atlantic regions, represent a sector of capital with a different identity and different needs from the political system. The two sectors are sometimes called the Cowboys and the Yankees.

Liberalism pursued an agenda that, for some years, could be tolerated by the Yankee sector of capital. Large, older corporate structures needed the stability that unionization provided, and could afford to “buy” that stability with benefits and relatively high wages. Thus, during much of the post-WW II period, liberalism and corporate America were able to co-exist in an uneasy alliance. However, with the arrival of national economies that threatened US hegemony (such as Japan, Germany, Western Europe and the emerging Pacific rim countries), the larger, multinational corporate sector could no longer afford liberalism’s programs and, in the later 1970s, began its own assault on regulatory laws and labor’s pay rates and benefits packages. When the unions objected, they were eliminated.

Simultaneously, the venture capital sector of capital was represented by the New Right. 4 For this sector, stability was less important than an economic environment that was hospitable for fast growth. Therefore, deregulation, deunionization, and lower corporate taxes were the agenda. As the 1980s progressed, the needs of the two sectors converged, until there was no voice left to defend the economic policies of liberalism- regulation, strong unions, and corporate taxation. (Lyons, 1994) The attack on these policies was most viciously mounted by the New Right (and continues to be central to the agenda of the “new Republicans”), but it is also supported, though more quietly, by big business.

The result has been the preservation (even inflation) of profits, but at a high social cost. The right’s economic agenda has been the equivalent of a “shock” treatment for the US economy. In order to maintain slipping profits, a formula of increased economic speculation, downsizing of the labor force, and concentration of profits in the hands of upper management and stockholders has been followed. The result is a redistribution of wealth, so that profits are maintained but at a punishing cost to the average wage-earner. Thus, some are getting richer, many are getting poorer, and the American dream- the belief that hard work will equal success and a better standard of living for the next generation- has been shattered. (Sklar: 1995)

The discontent that inevitably results from such a blow to the working and middle class has taken the form of a right-wing populist political revolt. We have seen the appeal of rightist rhetoric in the midst of economic decline elsewhere- in Germany during the rise of National Socialism, and more recently in England during the rise of Margaret Thatcher’s Tory movement. Some political themes are common to all three cases: nationalism, tax protest, anti-government rhetoric, a nostalgia for a more “moral” time, and scapegoating.


White supremacism and racial bigotry pervade the economy and culture of US society, taking different forms at different times. Yet, when discussing the right, many journalists do not refer at all to race and racism. Others see racism as the principal social, psychological and economic motivation for right-wing politics. Certainly the theme of white resentment of a perceived increase in the power of racial/ethnic minority groups plays heavily in the agenda of the right. That resentment is fanned and augmented by the decreased sense of economic security of many working and middle class white people (such as suburban, white, Republican males, white rural males, or women whose status is attached to those men) as a result of economic restructuring. There is no doubt that racial resentment and racial bigotry are major factors in the current resurgence of the right.5

But how does it work? It is easy to see why so much contemporary analysis of the right does not discuss racism. The New Right in the early 1980s explicitly renounced racism, claiming to turn its back on its past association with the Ku Klux Klan and the George Wallace Presidential campaign. Whenever a racist slur, or an indiscreet racist joke is made public, apologies are made, and the culprit is chastised. It appears that, in public political discourse, only David Duke and his ilk are allowed to “speak race,” and even there, the Republican Party national leadership creates a public distance and disavowal. 6

Another factor that obscures the right’s racism is the intersection of race and class in the US. Because there now exists a substantial Black middle class (and increasingly a Latino and Asian middle class, though as yet only a tiny Native American middle class), there are groups of people of color who are less culturally threatening to the right. In an effort to broaden the tent of Republican voters, these middle class communities of color have, in some cases, been courted and promoted by the right. (Toler:1993)

Most journalists, working within the institutional racism of their own newspapers or television stations, often accept right-wing politicians’ self-portrayal as non-racists at face value, and because Americans get most of their information from journalists, the racial motivation of much of the current right’s program is not properly understood. What is needed in order to accurately assess the racial politics of the right is an examination of the consequences of the right’s political agenda for people of color.

Three public policy initiatives sponsored by the right are examples of the important role of racial bigotry and resentment in the right’s political agenda: welfare “reform,” the anti-immigrant campaign, and the attack on affirmative action. Here, racist language is barely concealed. Stereotypes such as the “welfare queen,” used to attack welfare recipients, “illegal aliens” to attack immigrants, and “reverse discrimination” to misrepresent affirmative action, are promoted for the political punch inherent in the equation of people of color and negative qualities. If people of color are grouped under the umbrella of unseemly characteristics, then to disdain or dismiss them is less easily identified as racism.

In many cases, the racist results of right-wing policies are built on racially encoded concepts. A sampling of some of the most powerful are: individual responsibility, states’ rights, and dependency. In both blatant and encoded racial slurs, the central political and psychological ploys used are stereotyping and scapegoating. Scapegoating is fixing blame for social stress, economic loss, or loss of political power on a target group whose constructed guilt provides a simplistic explanation. Scapegoating in turn depends on stereotyping- assigning characteristics (usually negative) not to individuals but to entire groups of people. In a society experiencing painful economic contraction, anger increases, lines harden, and hated stereotypes increasingly become scapegoats. When the dominant political force is actually promoting scapegoating and stereotyping, as the right has done so effectively, the practice is bound to thrive.

In a society founded on the system of enslavement of Blacks, the target of scapegoating is most often the African American population. The dominant culture- white, Protestant, and male- has historically held power in part by oppressing people of color and other hated out-groups, understanding that in order to maintain dominance it cannot tolerate true pluralism.

As always, the effectiveness of the hold of those in power depends in part on the strength of those challenging that control. Currently, the political cohesion of communities of color is diminished. The leadership of the African American community has been in a weakened and fragmented state for some time, and the results of civil rights and anti-poverty legislation, while significant, have not fulfilled their promise of transformation in the fortunes of Black people. Among Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans, economic competition and cultural differences create divisions that are easily exploited and make a movement across race and ethnicity difficult to hold together.

For many whites of all classes, however, the advances that have been made by people of color seem to hold particular symbolic significance. In a climate in which many whites feel anxious and vulnerable, there is a simmering racial resentment of those who appear favored by affirmative action, so-called “preferential treatment,” and a perception that Blacks have made gains faster than whites. Bilingualism, multiculturalism, and other hard-won gains are now the focus of white backlash. This backlash, often expressed in a form sanitized of racist slurs, attacks African American gains by arguing that Blacks no longer suffer discrimination and therefore do not “deserve” a helping hand. This dismissal of the continuing racism within US society, when combined with the anxiety and anger created in whites by economic contraction, results in whites scapegoating Blacks and other people of color for the slip in status of groups of whites.

In the world of the far right, of course, white supremacism is endemic, and no obligation is felt to obscure it. The far right is more extremist and ideologically alienated than the sector of the right that works within the political power structure. While there is important cross-pollination between the far right and the electoral right, this discussion is not addressing the racism and bigotry of the paramilitary far right.

Would the right have such success with its stereotyping and scapegoating if the economy were expanding? Perhaps not, simply because the economic pain would be less severe and scapegoating would be less needed as a foil to draw anger away from more accurate targets.


An important factor in explaining the success of the right is a shift in the values held by the majority of the US public. Since the end of the 1970s, a climate of stress and discord has reflected the confusion, resentments, and fears of a society undergoing rapid social change. That climate has been nurtured and exploited by the organized right to promote social conservatism and capture power. One method has been to encourage cynicism about the intentions of government, and especially the evil of liberal reformism. The right’s success in transforming public attitudes is a testimony to its own self-conscious organizing, as well as the failure of liberalism to counter with an emotionally compelling vision.

A central goal of the right is to restore the norms of social conservatism that dominated in the 1950s. In the late 1970s, the New Right’s leadership skillfully identified deep strains of discontent within the American public: fears, resentments, hatreds and confusion that bubbled beneath the surface of public life. By organizing this public unhappiness and confusion into anger targeted at the liberation/reform movements of the 1960s and 1970s, they both built on and aggravated social strain. An important vehicle for this organizing was the promotion of a romanticized view of what seems a simpler and more manageable time. The resulting change in public attitudes is a shift in political culture.

This shift is in the core values held by people in both the public sphere and in their private lives. Of course, there is enormous variation in the political culture of any society- by class, race, gender, ethnicity, and by idiosyncratic preferences. But what is identified as a society’s political culture is the body of values and attitudes held by the bulk of people as expressed in the voting booth and captured in randomized opinion polls and focus group research. The concept of political culture is too broad a generalization to reflect the vast numbers of subcultures in the US.

Generalization though it is, to talk about a shift in the political culture of the US does capture a real social transformation. It should not be surprising that such a shift is not a matter of smooth transition. The potential winners and the potential losers are locked in struggle, as those who were dominant try to hold on and the challengers try to consolidate power. The power struggle is easiest to track in the political sphere, and in the economic sphere. It is harder to track in the social/cultural sphere- though this is a vital part of the struggle. For this reason, it is a mistake to watch only the right’s success in public policy. It is equally important to pay attention to the “values questions.” For without capturing the cultural sphere, no economic and political shift will hold.

The struggle is between the liberalism that traces its roots to the New Deal and a right-wing countermovement that opposes the values and policies of that liberalism. The liberal reforms now under attack- for example, legalization of abortion, gains in rights for lesbians and gay men, public support for free expression, and the extension of civil rights protections to people of color- are matters of public policy, but also of values. Those who support these reforms, and the values that underlie them, are prime targets for this countermovement.

Movements and countermovements do battle at almost any period. In a complex dance that journalists describe as the swinging pendulum, progressive and reactionary forces vie for dominance and influence, and each works to expose the other’s agenda. When the Republicans dominate, the pendulum is said to have swung to the right. When Democrats dominate, it has swung to the left. Occasionally, however, there is a shift in the “center”- the majority of voters who act as the fulcrum or anchor for the swinging pendulum. This is a period of enormous confusion, when scapegoating increases.

Political science literature makes much of the strength of the center in US politics. It is often lionized as the reason for US political stability. The durability and common sense said to characterize the center is also often associated with the large US middle class. Common sense is thought to reside in that stable body of average Americans, whose wisdom keeps a democracy on course.

For nearly 20 years, the US political center has been moving to the right, attracted by the right’s platform of family values, nationalism, race resentment, and a rhetoric of the work ethic. The most skillful of the right’s strategists, especially Paul Weyrich and Howard Phillips, targeted areas in which liberalism was vulnerable, and with great skill, identified the themes of dependence, crime, taxes, and family values. Crucial to the right’s success is the mix of these themes known as the “social issues”- such as sexual promiscuity, the decline of the family, the rights of children, the legitimacy of a gay or lesbian sexual orientation, etc. The right has appealed to age-old American cultural strains: Calvinism, self-reliance, patriarchy, Christian worship, and patriotism, to create a backlash countermovement of enormous effectiveness. The right’s organizing has been documented in a number of cases, perhaps most impressively by Ellen Messer-Davidow in her articles on the right’s attack on higher education. (Messer-Davidow, 1993)

A move to the right usually means a shoring up of the “establishment.” But the contemporary US right’s conservatism is not of the system-supporting type. Classical conservatism favors respect for government, reverence for the church as an institution, support for the nuclear family, and free market economics. It holds the individual as the most important unit in society. In major respects, the shift now occurring does not conform to classical conservatism. The right- both religious and secular- is more extreme in its ideology. It fosters suspicion- if not hatred- of government, dismissal of the mainstream Protestant churches, and a punitive and intrusive role toward individual sexual conduct and sexual orientation.

Rather than a familiar brand of conservative “Father Knows Best” Republicanism, this right-wing social movement organizes the expression of more extreme instincts. It is built on a backlash fueled by anger- in the form of resentment, spite, vengeance, envy, loss, and bitterness over declining status- on the part of those who feel that they have not benefited from the changes of the last 30 years. (Gusfield: 1963; Crawford: 1980) This social anger is also fed by the current religious revitalization, economic contraction and race resentment discussed above. This volatile combination of reactionary instincts is fanned by the right and directed toward the targets of liberals, feminists, people of color (especially through stereotyping of welfare recipients, criminals, immigrants, and drug users), and lesbians and gay men, all perceived to be the beneficiaries of liberal social change.

A number of specific grievances and deprivations underlie the right’s successful organizing of a countermovement. First is anxiety on the part of the white, suburban middle class Protestants who were dominant for generations and in the 1980s began to see themselves as losing status and therefore willing to join backlash movements. The assurance of a secure and predictable place in society, while never guaranteed, was certainly expected as part of the heritage associated with white skin, education, and middle class family of origin. Policies designed to fortify the liberal ideals of tolerance and pluralism and increased equality seemed to threaten the standing of white heterosexual middle-class Protestants and Catholics, especially males. In the heat of disillusionment and right-wing propaganda, this sector of white voters abandoned the Democratic coalition. (Edsall and Edsall: 1990)

But the right’s resurgence is not based exclusively in the middle class. Working class whites also suffer social stress and perceived loss of status, and especially resent their obvious competitors- African American men, women, gays and lesbians, and immigrants. They also resent the New Class, the small but visible young urban professional nouveau riches of the 1980s. These yuppies, as they are known, are stockbrokers, professional couples with no children, single women corporate executives, MBAs who specialize in mergers and buy-outs, and lawyers who specialize in large real estate transactions. In short, they do not work with their hands, they have excess income which they spend on luxury items, and they are unattached or only loosely attached to church or family.

Across class lines there is a shared anxiety and confusion over the speed of social and cultural change- change that is perceived as making the society more violent, more sexually permissive, less orderly, and less predictable. There is particular anxiety in raising children, because it is in this sphere that so much of the perceived decline in American society becomes concrete.

It is in the raising of children that much of the American dream is most vividly enacted. The United States as the world’s dominant economic power, ever-growing and bringing increased prosperity to each succeeding generation, is a revered image in our political folklore. Though the American dream is itself a social invention, it is a particularly powerful one. One successful strategy of the contemporary right has been to wrap itself in the American dream, and to portray liberals as killers of that dream. (Quigley: 1992) The right’s caricature of an all-powerful liberalism has proved elastic enough to have caused any grievance.

For middle- and working-class white Protestants anxious about their own status and resentful of the loss of the American dream, the demonization of liberals and progressives deflects anger away from upper-class Republicans- the only group that has remained relatively untouched by the economic contraction, social changes, and shift in political culture of the last three decades. Whether or not a right-wing backlash movement prevails, this group will remain stable. In fact, due to deregulation, and changes in the tax code, it is expanding. While upper-class Republicans may not be culturally comfortable with the “resentment constituency,” there is little in this movement that appears to threaten their position in society. Thus, the takeover of the Republican Party by its right wing is unlikely to be opposed by any upper class elites except the weakened and faltering Republican moderates, who support a more traditional brand of classical conservatism.

Media plays an important role in the current shift and should be mentioned as a factor in the right’s resurgence. The right has vilified the mainstream media as liberal and biased against conservative and Christian views. By creating new media outlets, such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network, and by pressuring mainstream media through boycotts of advertisers’ products and letter-writing campaigns, the right has gained remarkable media access. As documented by the newsletter of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the opinions represented even within the television outlet most attacked by the right, PBS, range from centrist to right wing. (Extra!: 1993) With the exception of past sporadic appearances by the late Erwin Knoll on the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour or an occasional independent film with a progressive theme, there is no voice of the left on television. Pacifica Radio is one of only a handful of left radio outlets. As the political “center” moves to the right, public debate increasingly takes place between the moderate right and the extreme right.

Before the electronic age- specifically satellite television transmission, cable TV and talk-radio programming- a diversity of values existed in greater distance from each other. Decision-making elites and opinion makers were thought to have more information than the average person, and for that reason were often accorded the role of representing their constituents. Today, people feel that they have enough information to be direct decision-makers. (Inglehart: 1990) This has encouraged a strong streak of populism that is a crucial ingredient in the right’s social movement.

The right has promoted a belief that wisdom resides in the average (white) person and that elites and intellectuals are no longer needed as mediators between government and the people. Thus, an important part of the culture shift is a demand by middle- and working-class white voters for a more direct democracy, in order to express their discontent. This has allowed those who understand and utilize that demand- in this case the right, not the left- to gain political advantage by quickly providing an outlet for it. And it has led to further disenfranchisement of the poor and underserved, who are less well-trained and well-equipped for the challenges of direct democracy.

Social stress and culture shift might equally cause a leftist resurgence- an identification of the source of the problem within capitalism, its power structure and the owning class that controls it. At times this has been the case, but the strength of the right has succeeded in suppressing and deflecting such political impulses, in part through the vehicle of an effective, coordinated, and well-funded movement infrastructure.


Social, political, and economic discontent, no matter how strongly powered by mutually reinforcing causes, does not result in revolutionary change unless there is a political movement to capture the anger and direct it in a certain direction. The right’s ability to capitalize on the economic chaos, racial tensions, and social discontent of the current historical moment can be explained, in large part, by its stronger political movement.

This movement is well-financed and well-run, combining shrewd strategic planning for political success with a rigid set of ideological principles backed by a certitude based in religious beliefs. The membership organizations, networks, think tanks, media outlets, campus publications, coalitions, interest groups, PACs, and funders that work to advance the right’s political movement make up its “movement infrastructure.”

While a movement cannot succeed without substantial mass sentiment to support it, its precise level of success is shaped by the strength and effectiveness of its infrastructure. (Hixson, p. 273) Public education, which is key to any change in political direction, depends on movement-oriented think tanks, research centers, publishing houses, TV and radio outlets, and schools and universities. Legislative initiatives to press movement goals require legal firms. Mobilization for popular campaigns to pressure legislators requires grassroots membership organizations. Capturing electoral power requires political consultants, PACs, media expertise, and grassroots training programs for political supporters.

The right’s strategists, funders, organizers and activists have modeled the creation of an effective movement infrastructure. By attending to movement-building, they have created a juggernaut- an overwhelming force that has swept the right to power and swept away liberal reformism in 15 short years.

In the early 1990s Beth Schulman, Associate Publisher of In These Times magazine, circulated a memorandum that discussed the difference in funding patterns of progressive funders and right-wing funders. She pointed out that the right-wing funders invested in the building blocks or skeletal structure of their movement- such as publications, research centers, think tanks, and academic fellowships and chairs designated for rightist scholars, campus organizations, and youth groups. (Schulman: 1992 and Bleifuss: 1995)

Liberal and progressive foundations, on the other hand, were not underwriting movement-building, but instead were funding good works that promised to assure better social conditions and promote equality and tolerance. Much of this funding could be classified as humanitarian aid, which was needed in the face of the social service cuts of the Reagan/Bush years. Unable to turn a deaf ear to need and suffering, liberal and progressive funders lacked the discipline and single-mindedness of the right’s funders. The result is that the right got greater political mileage for each dollar invested because the movement it underwrote was focused on a strategic plan for seizing power.

Thus, in the case of a particular right-wing issue, such as the liberalism of higher education or the increasing effectiveness of the gay rights movement, the right had in place all the components needed to launch a full scale campaign to press the issue. Local single-issue organizations could tap into the resources of national right-wing legal firms, research centers, publishing houses, funders, and membership organizations. This allowed the fire-power of an entire movement to assist the political work of the smallest grassroots right-wing effort.

One of the most effective roles of the right-wing movement infrastructure has been its role in knitting together secular social and economic conservatives and conservative religious activists. These two groups might have existed side-by-side without a conscious effort to coordinate and integrate their work. By combining forces through the networks and coalitions of the right, the impact of each sector has increased dramatically. United, the secular and religious right have seized power; separately, that would have been unlikely.

Related to movement infrastructure is the need for strategic planning. Without clear analysis, defined goals, and developed strategies, even the strongest movement will spin its wheels without actually capturing power. Two academics who write about the right’s strategic planning are sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset and his critic, Michael Rogin, political scientist at UC/Berkeley. Lipset identified three sectors that contribute to right-wing success: Republican politicians, their core constituency of upper-income conservatives, and the lower-middle and working class adherents of backlash movements. Writing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lipset focused much of his attention on working class rightists. As a result, the role of Republican politicians and upper-income conservatives in the US right was long overlooked in academic circles.

Michael Rogin has corrected this oversight by using “resource mobilization theory.” In case studies that have examined Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, and political behavior in Orange County, California, Rogin has highlighted the role of political elites (Republican Party activists and office-holders in this case) and “cause activists,” right-wing activists whose organizational base is outside the Party, but whose political goal is control of the Party. This is a crucial aspect of the success of the right wing of the Republican Party in taking over the Party. The “cause activists” are not harnessed by Party unity, or even Party loyalty. The Republican Party is simply a vehicle for the right’s goals- the most appropriate and sensible vehicle, but one that is itself in need of right-wing reform.

In a search for new electoral cleavages to exploit within the Democratic Party, the right’s Republican partisans saw the potential of the social issues, including racial tensions, as a source of division within Democratic ranks. A strategy of luring socially conservative Democrats away from the Democratic Party, which dates to the 1960s and is known as the Southern Strategy, has accomplished several overlapping goals: the growth of the power of the Republican Party, the diversion of resources to Republicans through control of policy-making decisions that affect the distribution of wealth, and the weakening of such political opponents as Democrats and left-leaning independent voters.

These goals were achieved not simply because of a spontaneous expression of backlash social sentiments, racial resentments, or economic anger. They were accomplished by capturing decision-making positions (winning political office), mobilizing resources (getting control of bureaucracies), and swaying public opinion (activating political ideologues through a network of organizations, publications, churches, research organizations, grassroots groups, national coalitions, conferences, TV and radio, voter education, and activist training). Because the right’s movement is not led by Republican office-holders, the movement is not always system-supporting. It is often system-opposing, as New Right and Christian Right leaders ignore or confront Republicans deemed insufficiently loyal to the movement. (Diamond: 1995)

The role of the federal government in promoting or squelching a growing social movement is fluid and opportunistic. The government can be either a passive judge of competing movements and interests, or an active participant that promotes or inhibits them. The government can channel resources, confer legitimacy, and provide leadership for a social movement. (Lo: 1982) In the current right-wing movement, government power has been hotly contended- an acknowledgment of the crucial role that it can play as an asset or a roadblock for a movement.

Government also has its own independent interests, primarily those of self-preservation and preservation of the status quo. In some cases those needs may call for expanded rights for some groups, the promotion of greater tolerance, or strengthening of one or another disadvantaged group. In most cases, however, government interest lies with those holders of power whose interests it most strongly represents. In the case of the right, when right-wing activism is so extreme that it is directed at the overthrow of the government or the massive disruption of the status quo, government represses that sector.7

For the most part, the right’s movement-building has been financed by elites outside government, who have bankrolled a movement infrastructure that is openly hostile to government power in its New Deal form. Elites inside government have often (unsuccessfully) opposed the right’s rapid ascension.


The current electoral and cultural success of the right has not occurred in a vacuum, but during a specific historical period in which five overlapping and reinforcing factors have converged to create a hospitable environment. These factors are driving the political and social direction of the country relentlessly to the right.

This analysis can help us to understand the challenge we face in responding to the dangerous movement known as the New Right, the Christian Right and the new Republicans. It is discouraging that many of the factors discussed above- especially economic contraction, social backlash, and the strength of the right’s political infrastructure- mitigate against liberal reformist social change. That does not mean, however, that there is no hope. What is needed is a clear appreciation of both the danger we now face, and the potential for positive change that exists despite that danger.

The reactionary forces of this historical moment will not be stopped simply by progressives working harder. The engine of reaction must first be slowed in order to create breathing room for liberalism and the left. This requires a massive campaign of public education to expose the right’s hidden agendas and actual motivations. There must also be careful documentation of the consequences of right-wing policies. Simultaneously, progressives need to develop new leadership and new ideas. (Levitas, et al: 1995)

The most important quality in developing new ideas may be the ability to listen with new ears to the concerns, fears, hopes, and aspirations of the traditional constituencies of the left- low-income people, people who suffer from discrimination (especially racism and sexism), and working people on whose backs the profits of a rapacious capitalism are built. Historically, liberals and progressives have been better at advocacy than at listening. While the left and liberals have accomplished a great many reforms, the right has been more successful at creating a simple message that wins support by encapsulating frustrations and directing them toward unpopular scapegoats.

This is a powerful marketing formula that has been used in the past to bring ultra-right movements to power, most notably in Germany in the 1930s. It is a technique that thrives in a setting of economic hard times for working people. It rests on a movement infrastructure that can organize aggressively to spread the message and win recruits. And it thrives when progressives, reformers, humanists, and liberal religious people underestimate the threat they face or are too weak or unorganized to hold the line.

Religious liberals will have a crucial role to play in the restructuring of the liberal/left coalition. The punitive and vengeful brand of Christian fundamentalism that now dominates the Religious Right must be confronted by those whose religious beliefs lead to humane, socially conscious public policy.

Further, the strategists of liberal and progressive social change must admit the failure of their message and their policies to hold the loyalty of the average voter. With that admission must come a self-criticism that is honest, thorough, and seeks input from not only those who stayed with liberalism, but also those who have rejected it. Failed revolutionary movements in other countries are sometimes criticized by progressives for failing to examine adequately the reasons for their loss of popular support. No less should be done in the face of our own failure, if the rebuilding is to avoid the shortcomings of the past.


1. For an excellent account of the history of the rise of the right, see Chip Berlet, “The Right Rides High.”The Progressive, October, 1994, pp. 22-29.

2. There is no rigorous and universally-agreed definition of a “movement.” In the case of religious and social movements, often something as specific as a campaign mounted by a group of like-minded citizens is labeled a movement. In this discussion the term movement will be reserved for umbrella movements rather than their sub-movements. Thus, the term social movement will refer to the collectivity of active campaigns mobilized by the right around the social issues. Economic, political, and religious movements will refer to the collectivity of active campaigns mobilized by the right around economic, political, and religious issues. All these movements unite under the rubric of the contemporary US right.

3. The definitions of evangelical and fundamentalist are murky because they describe movements rather than institutions. George Marsden (1991) attempts a definition: Christian evangelicalism includes any Christian who is traditional enough to affirm the basic beliefs of : 1) the final authority of the Bible, 2) the reality of scripture, 3) redemption through Christ, 4) the importance of missionary work, and 5) the importance of a spiritually transformed life. A Christian fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in opposition to liberal theology or to changes in cultural values or mores. Pentecostalism, which dates to the 1920s, is associated with faith healing and speaking in tongues, signifying dramatic intervention of the supernatural. A slightly different and more modern form of supernatural religious practice is practiced by “Charismatics.” To be born-again refers to a conversion experience in which one surrenders his or her life to Jesus Christ, thus making Jesus your personal Lord and savior. (Diamond, 1989)

4. The sectors are drawn in an over-simple fashion for the sake of the argument. Many New Right organizations received financial support from sources within the multinational sector, and many aspects of the political agendas of each overlap; most notably in the cultural sphere and the area of the “social issues.”

5. The term “white” is used here to refer to Americans of European descent who are non-Jews. Needless to say, skin color and racial identification are far more complex than allowed by schemes of racial classification. They are, to a large extent, social constructions.

6 The Republican Party refused to back David Duke in his 1991 campaign for Governor of Louisiana, despite the certain victory of the Democratic candidate, Edwin Edmunds.

7. This is the case when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has attacked right-wing enclaves that have stockpiled weapons, right-wing tax protesters who have defied the IRS, or far-right movement activists who have engaged in illegal activity.