Bernie is changing the game

BernieBy Alan Bean

I cannot recall another presidential election when both the official guardians of both major political parties were shocked and dismayed by the preferences of the base.   The Republican establishment is scared to death that Trump or Cruz will win the nomination.  Democrats are freaking out over a surging Sanders campaign.

But  let’s face it, Trump and Cruz are serving up the kind of red meat the party base has learned to love.  The  elite might prefer a compassionate conservative, but the folks in the trenches want an America that looks and sounds like 1953, a blessed time when the electorate was overwhelmingly white, men ruled the national roost, American economic and military power defined  the world and one-nation-under-God civil religion was the height of fashion.  The Republican base wants candidates who promise a return to White Eden and Trump and Cruz promise to deliver.

However George Will or David Brooks might define the term, Trump-Cruz is what contemporary conservatism looks like.

Conversely, the Democratic base looks and sounds like Bernie Sanders.  The prospect of a female president resonates, but economic populism is the driving passion of the Democratic base.  Sanders needs a haircut (badly) and his unmodulated apocalyptic rhetoric is shrill and predictable, but we all know what Bernie stands for.   Most movement Democrats, including many of those who think the man from Vermont is unelectable, agree with his economic analysis.

In fact, most Republicans agree with Bernie (so long as you don’t use the s-word).  American politics is controlled by corporate America and Hillary Clinton, for all her political merits, would do nothing to change that fact.

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the rest of a dwindling Republican field, realize their political success demands fealty to corporate sponsors.  They don’t wear corporate logos on their pin-stripes like NASCAR drivers, but they might as well.

Donald “you’re fired” Trump is the very face of corporate America.  We might not like the guy, but if you believe his entrepreneurial passion makes economic magic, you are willing to bow the knee.

Ted Cruz has been a willing tool of the corporate community since he was in high school.  All the constitutional blather boils down to cutting big business loose from federal regulation and taxation.  The money people rub their hands together when politicians like Cruz talk tough on foreign policy.  Militarism is as good for business as it’s bad for everyone else.  So is a dysfunctional immigration system predicated on private prisons.  Cruz can take an aggressively pro-life stance on the abortion issue because his corporate masters, being 98% male, have no strong feelings on the subject.

Social and foreign policy issues, from the perspective of those who own American politics, are a convenient distraction from the only agenda that really matters: the well being of the CEO class.  They would have us believe that the rule of the wealthy keeps America strong, prosperous and virtuous.

To the extent that American business is still subject to government regulation, the American form of plutocracy is approximate, not pure.  To the extent that the CEO class is taxed at all, the revolution is incomplete.

Most corporate types can live with a status quo that has them earning 500 times as much as their average employees.  Hillary Clinton is their candidate.

Others will only be satisfied when the taxing and regulatory powers of government disappear altogether.  They are bankrolling men like Cruz.

Donald Trump sees no reason to work through “conservative” surrogates when he could impose his will directly.  Initially, perhaps, he just wanted to pump us his celebrity (and indulge in a little innocent merriment) by throwing a spanner into the electoral works.  He never dreamed his crude antics would go over so well.

But they did and now Trump’s in it to win it.

The American electorate limps between two opinions.  We resent and envy the moneyed class, believing they have far too much influence.  Still, believing we’d be would be lost without the magnates and tycoons, we raise few objections when the political class calls for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Where you fall on this continuum largely determines your politics.

Should we placate the 1% a little, or a lot?  That is the question.

Bernie Sanders is a socialist.  He isn’t the kind of socialist who believes in government control over the economy; but he is challenging the suggestion that the average worker can’t do well unless the corporate class is doing 500 times better.  He’s calling for balance.  He wants more regulation and more taxation of the master class.  Lot’s more. And he is isn’t embarrassed to say so.

And that’s why Bernie’s star is currently in the ascendancy.  He ain’t pretty.  He ain’t smooth.  But he’s asking the right questions and jabbing his finger in the right direction.

The media (liberal and conservative) aren’t feeling the Bern.  Americans don’t elect socialists, so Sanders is bound to fade sooner or later. If we ignore him, they seem to be saying, maybe it will be sooner.

But Bernie’s not going away.  He may not win it all, but he has transformed a forgone conclusion into a genuine horse race.  And that is a great thing for American political discourse.

How a Baptist preacher learned about mass incarceration.

These days, everybody seems to agree that mass incarceration–the policy of fighting crime by locking up as many people as possible for as long as possible–was a really bad idea.   Charles and David Koch, Ted Cruz, and a steadily lengthening queue of criminologists and police chiefs have come out in favor of decreasing the American prison population.

It hasn’t always been this way.  In fact, when Friends of Justice formed fifteen years ago, most opinion leaders in America saw incarceration as the solution, not the problem.  Our work in places like Tulia, Texas and Jena, Louisiana helped change that perception.

But it will take more than a shift in the zeitgeist to significantly lower the prison population.  The following address concluded the “Ties That Blind: Race and the Criminal Justice System” conference at the United Theological Seminary in Minneapolis on October 16, 2015.   The little town of Tulia, Texas, I suggest, shows why mass incarceration looked like such a good idea at the time and why it will take a spiritual reformation to find a better solution.

By Alan Bean

Tulia bustThe Tulia drug bust of 1999 was my introduction to mass incarceration.

In the early morning hours of July 23, 1999, officers from across the Texas panhandle converged on the south side of this community of 5,000.  Before they were finished, 47 people were stuffed into the tiny holding cells in the Swisher County Jail.  All but six of them were black, and those who weren’t had close ties with the black community.

Tom Coleman, a gypsy cop whose father was a legendary Texas Ranger, was responsible for buying 132 little baggies of white powder from these 47 defendants.  Nothing connected the little baggies to the defendants save Coleman’s uncorroborated word.  He had no second witness testimony, no audio or video evidence, no fingerprints and no guns, drugs or large amounts of cash were found in the course of the drug sweep.

You either believed Coleman was telling the truth or you didn’t.

I didn’t. (more…)

“Nut Country”: How Dallas silenced Jesus and became the most Christian city in America

By Alan Bean

nut countryWhen evangelist Chuck Templeton visited Dallas in the late 1950s he was deeply disturbed by the city’s extraordinary religious culture.  As he stood chatting with the pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church, a grinning congregant approached with an envelope in his hand.  “That’s for $100,000,” the man announced proudly.  “I just finished an oil deal worth a cool million and that’s my tithe.”

Moments later, the pastor drove Templeton to the most exclusive tailor in Dallas to have him fitted for three expensive suits.  When Templeton realized what was happening, he protested vigorously, eventually talking the pastor down to a pair of cowboy boots.  Templeton had learned through observation and painful experience that lavish gifts come with a price.

There was something unusual about the symbiotic relationship between religion and big business in the Dallas of the 1950s and 60s and nothing much has changed.  In Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, Edward H. Miller argues that Big-D was a Beta version for the Southern Strategy, a trial run that worked the bugs out of racial politics.

My big question (as the title of this post suggests) is how a fundamentally unchristian political strategy could owe so much to the Christian community.  I would argue that the megachurch culture of Dallas has its roots in the strange dynamics Miller describes in Nut Country.

The title derives from an idle remark John F. Kennedy made to his wife as the couple dressed for their fatal trip to to Dallas: “We’re heading into nut country today.”

A poster circulating in Dallas shortly before JFK was assassinated
A poster circulating in Dallas shortly before JFK was assassinated

Dallas earned a reputation as “hate city” following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but Miller detects a method behind the madness.  In Dallas, apocalyptic religion, libertarian economics and small government politics were fused into an intoxicating brew that gradually infused and reshaped American politics. (more…)