The New Age of Eliminationism in America: A Conversation with David Neiwert and Barry Mauer in Orlando, Florida, April 19, 2017
On April 18, 2017, David Neiwert presented a talk to the University of Central Florida titled “The New Age of Eliminationism in America: How the Internet Feeds Radicalization and Dehumanization.” The next day, he sat down for a discussion with Dr. Barry Mauer, Interim Director of the Texts and Technology Doctoral Program and a co-director of the Citizen Curator Project, which is sponsoring exhibitions about Eliminationism and resilience on the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
Neiwert summarized his April 18th talk as follows: The politics of elimination — embodied in nativism, white supremacism, and similar authoritarian ideologies -have long been part of the American political fabric, but in recent years have come bubbling forward in the wave of hate-crime incidents associated with the 2016 election, as well as mass killings such as those in Charleston, S.C., and at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Historically fueled by dehumanizing rhetoric and belief systems, eliminationism has become a common theme in rising right-wing ideologies around the globe, spread especially through the phenomenon of online radicalization, both among Islamist radicals and alt-right white nationalists. Neiwert’s talk will explore this history, and suggest ways of countering the spread of this kind of hate.
Barry Mauer: The mainstream right or the Republican Party has at least nominally kept its distance from the alt-groups for quite a while, though we can say that they used code language, but there does seem to be a significant difference now with Trump. Can you talk about how you perceive this difference?
DAVID NEIWERT: I’ve been one of the people saying all along that the distance between them is much too small. It has been really since the early 2000s. We certainly saw the distance shrinking during the Bush years and then it became miniscule during the Obama years, especially as a result of the Tea Party. I grew up a Republican, and I grew up in a Republican state. My home state of Idaho was one of the first states to pass a hate crime law, in 1980, with the help of Republican legislators. They understood then that these hate groups — partly because we had the Aryan Nations in Idaho and they were getting all this crime and people could see it very up close, the toxic effect that hate groups can have — and it wasn’t difficult then to get mainstream Republicans to get on board with that kind of stuff. During the Reagan years we saw the hatred of government building into what we saw in the 90s as the militia movement and that’s where it started getting close.
BARRY MAUER: You had some people who were much closer to the violent, openly racist, fringe right in the Republican Party; there wasn’t a clear attempt to distance themselves from — the other parts of the Republican Party — didn’t distance themselves clearly from that. When the Oklahoma City bombing happened, there was a kind of scramble on the right to cover up the connections to right wing militias and to scrub that side of the story.
DAVID NEIWERT: Right, well even to this day! Today is the 22nd anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and they’re holding memorial services in Oklahoma, and yet Oklahoma is one of the most red states in the country and even in Oklahoma people didn’t put it in perspective of that larger picture that this is something that came out of a much larger movement. Instead we still treat Oklahoma City today as kind of a one-off, as a sort of an unusual event, when it actually came out of a whole series of events that are all connected.
BARRY MAUER: Waco? Ruby Ridge?
DAVID NEIWERT: And also connected to a whole wave of domestic terrorism between ’95 and 2000 including Eric Rudolph and really a whole number of other players, but Rudolph and McVeigh were really the two terrorists who attracted the most attention because they were successful. Usually right wing domestic terrorists are not terribly successful because they are usually incompetent.
BARRY MAUER: As are all terrorists, Islamic ones too. Most of them, by far, are not terribly capable.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yes, the domestic Islamists are not always terribly capable, though certainly we saw with Omar Mateen and the San Bernardino folks, they certainly can be.
BARRY MAUER: Mateen had been trained to use weapons. He was a security officer. He had been hired by a security company. So his own training probably came in handy when he was committing his crimes.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yes, and having been raised in America helped. He was raised around guns.
BARRY MAUER: Trump tried to portray this as foreign terrorism, and we have to shut down the borders to prevent all refugees from coming here, and these guys are American citizens born and bred and raised here!
DAVID NEIWERT: We just had somebody yesterday, some Republican lawmaker from Florida commenting that the Muslim ban could have prevented the Pulse shooting. I was like, “how? Explain that to me!”
BARRY MAUER: It’s not like Mateen was even devout in any way. He wasn’t a regular attendee. It does seem like a lot of the people who become radicalized on the Islamic side of the spectrum are not lifelong devotees of Islam, but many of them are criminals, psychopaths, and people with violent backgrounds who have a late life conversion, and it seems like Islamism becomes a kind of justification that you grab onto to commit the violence you already wanted to commit. It gives it a sheen of purpose when in fact they were already going that way.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well it’s important to understand that Islamism is quite distinct from Islam. It’s a political ideology; it’s not a religious belief system. That’s something that is often overlooked when we discuss Islamist terrorism. That’s why the confusion exists. “It’s all these Muslims!” It’s Islamists, not Muslims, and we need to learn to make that distinction. But even more importantly, and this gets to what you’re saying, a lot of people who are radicalized usually suffered from family trauma, they want revenge, are really angry with western society. They want to act out these acts. That’s as true with the international terrorists as it is with the domestic. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, was mentally ill and he had a lot of issues — reasons he wanted to take revenge — including the really horrific anti-Muslim discrimination he had encountered in the military. A lot of people don’t understand that these attitudes actually engender more terrorism. This hatred, this kind of irrational bigotry towards Muslims — I’m pretty sure that played a role in the San Bernardino shootings too. The fact that they targeted his workplace was a pretty powerful clue that something was going on.
BARRY MAUER: Not to justify but to understand.
DAVID NEIWERT: Right, to understand because we definitely see the domestic Islamists we’re seeing are definitely totally different creatures than the international ones we’re seeing.
BARRY MAUER: We’re not talking about the people who have been trained in ISIS camps.
DAVID NEIWERT: Or prior to that, al Qaeda.
BARRY MAUER: The other question is online radicalization. It seems to me that when we’re talking about either Islamists or right-wingers, these are people who likely would not find a lot of like-minded people around them if there wasn’t an Internet. It would be quite hard to find support for their beliefs and inclinations if they were left to their own devices without the Internet.
DAVID NEIWERT: That was something we actually observed in the 90s when the Internet first came along. The Patriot movement was really the first sort of Internet-organized extremist movement that we saw, at least in the United States. We’ve been observing that for a very long time, that one of the things that actually pulled the militia movement together was the fact that it had the Internet available to reach these audiences that normally they’d have had to go around and do all these town hall meetings to gather followers and very very slow momentum. The Internet made it available to reach all kinds of people al across the country in ways that they couldn’t before and that just really exploded in the 2000s and gave birth to the alt-right really. We saw it go not just from the Patriots but to a whole range of conspiracy theorists where really the Internet has just been huge gathering point and information point for these conspiracy theories as well as white nationalism, misogyny, and all these other elements that eventually coagulated into the alt-right.
BARRY MAUER: Another question that comes up is with traditional types of media that predated the Internet, like newspapers and so on: there’s a gatekeeper function. And the Internet was hailed as being this great democratic force because it did not have that gatekeeper function. So it’s dismaying to people like me who hoped that there was a sort of a natural tendency in this society — that what was standing in the way of this society becoming better was actually these corrupt leaders, and that if we could hear directly from the people, their democratic voices would arise and we would all become more enlightened. I think we could already see the direction things were going before the Internet when you look at call in radio stuff, because that’s where this sort of two-way communication started taking off. Of course then you already had a DJ or host was already sort of leading things and creating the direction. So should we despair about human beings or is there something we need to do in terms of rethinking our media apparatus?
DAVID NEIWERT: One of the things that we kind of learned through this whole situation of Trump is that the spread of misinformation, false information, deliberately false information, is becoming a real problem and I think eventually there’s going to be a market demand for a return of a certain level of gatekeeper functions. One of the things that people misunderstood about the gatekeepers — and this is something I was very intimately familiar with — is that there were really two levels of gatekeeping going on within the mainstream media. First was the level that I actually worked at for years which is I was a news editor as well as a reporter. I worked for quite a few years as copy editor. I was fact checking it, proofreading it, making sure that we had not just our facts straight, but our perspective straight as well. And that kind level of gatekeeping is really essential, and it is what’s missing from the Internet. But then we also had that sort of second tier of gatekeeping which was my bosses at the publisher and editor level, who wanted us to have stories that made the community happy and they would kill stories if they thought would be too controversial and that sort of thing. And that is what I always objected to and that was why I really loved seeing the Internet come along — because it created bottlenecks for all kinds of information. We weren’t being whole. I think a lot of that is why mainstream media became unpopular because they weren’t serving their audience right. A lot of this had to do with corporate ownership of media, which really became an issue beginning in the early 80s and gained momentum and by the 90s we were really down to like 7 or 8 newspaper companies in the whole country.
BARRY MAUER: Some of that was a result of deregulation and not just market forces.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yes it was kind of a deliberate thing but it was also that little newspaper owners were able to make a lot of money in a hurry by selling off their old paper to these corporations, right? Because they’d be offered huge bundles for them. Pretty much an offer they couldn’t refuse. And then once it was in corporate control then a corporation would just gut the newsrooms, trim them down until all you were covering in these small communities was city council, sports, and cops and courts, right? It just destroyed community journalism and then it moved up and we’re seeing the same thing on larger scales so that investigative reporting was being destroyed at these newspapers, consumer reporting, and all these kinds of things. And that was a really essential part of what the media does, or what it should be doing, to serve their communities. And so the audience isn’t necessarily able to identify these things intellectually but they sense them. They can know, they can feel, that it’s not serving their community and so that had a lot to do with why people turned so readily to the Internet for their information as a fresh source, because the mainstream media wasn’t doing its job.
BARRY MAUER: Of course then there’s this myth that mainstream media was liberal and they were owned by corporations that had anything but liberal interests in mind.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, I could go on all day about that one.
BARRY MAUER: So let’s skip that.
DAVID NEIWERT: (laughing) Yes, it’s affecting my employment directly!
BARRY MAUER: We talk about consolidation but at the same time, for consumers, it looked like the opposite was happening because the media started becoming more and more directed towards niches. And so you had three or four TV stations and then you had cable and satellite and all this other stuff and now you have thousands. So people’s perception is actually that the media environment has become much more diverse, not more consolidated. So how do you understand or explain this to a consumer who says, “Well no, my information hasn’t become more limited; it’s become more diverse”?
DAVID NEIWERT: Well, I would just say that good information has actually become more limited and bad information has become incredibly diverse.
BARRY MAUER: So, good explanation!
DAVID NEIWERT: And that’s where the gatekeeper function — we really need to figure something out for that. And it really has to be something that people want. I think people are going to have to demand it before we can get it, because lord knows there is no sort of profit motive attached to this sort of thing yet. But I think as people come to understand that the a-factuality and lack of factuality in the information they’re getting has profound and dire consequences then I think we’ll do something. But we’re Americans; we don’t really act until disaster is on our doorstep.
BARRY MAUER: Right, we’re not the preventive types.
DAVID NEIWERT: We are not. We’re not really good at that stuff.
BARRY MAUER: So you’re in the journalism business and I’m in the education business and I’m dealing with the same kind of question, and this does make me really unpopular, but I talk about checking people’s ideologies as a way of ensuring that the apparatus of education is doing its job. And for example, I would say that we shouldn’t hire a biology teacher who rejects scientific theories of evolution. And you might say that that’s an ideological litmus test and therefore unacceptable. And I’ve heard Republican politicians actually say this, that there’s a liberal bias in education. But we also have a gatekeeper function and we have to ensure we are not polluting the educational environment with bad information.
DAVID NEIWERT: Correct.
BARRY MAUER: And at the same time I wonder if we should graduate people who hold beliefs that are based on false information. Then what you’re saying is you’re putting your institution’s stamp of approval on that person and saying that they should go out and profess their expertise in whatever they got their degree in.
DAVID NEIWERT: Sure, well just think about all the people who graduate from Liberty University with journalism degrees! They’ve all been taught really bad principles of journalism.
BARRY MAUER: You would assume that people from Liberty have a particular ideological bent to them, so if you were an employer and you were in the market for an employee and someone had Liberty University on their CV, you would know what you were getting. But if you’re getting someone from a state university, you’re assuming that they actually have reliable information. So when I have been talking about asking what do our students actually believe, I get critiqued. And another question is — I shouldn’t be judging their work on their content but only on their form; is it stylistically correct? I also say you can make any argument you want. I’m not censoring your argument but your argument should have — there should be reasons for it . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: To follow the rules of logic . . .
BARRY MAUER: . . . there should be evidence! But this ties into what you’ve been talking about: the attack on reality itself in politics.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well, Colbert put it best, I think: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” And that’s only a recent phenomenon, since the 90s I would say. Certainly when I was growing up, conservatives were every bit as connected to hardheaded factuality as liberals were, probably a little but more so. And yet, what started happening — I think Rush Limbaugh had a lot to do with this — but really ultimately what happened was that sometime in the late 80s, early 90s, conservatism moved away from being based on philosophical principles and became purely an anti-liberal movement. And once you do that then you really start eroding the foundations of factuality and reality. Because if liberals are taking a position that’s based on scientific and factual reality, then simply opposing it because it’s liberal kind of forces you into a position that is counter factual and that is ideological and is based on emotional narratives rather than the actual facts. And that’s what really in so many ways happened to the right wing in America: that they became so devoted to anti-liberalism that they became a link to absorb and champion counter-factuality, and as I explain in my forthcoming book, it created an epistemological bubble that they all kind of live in now where up is down and right is wrong. And that bubble has some pretty profound consequences because it means we’re shaping government policy on a really irrational basis that ultimately hurts people. And lord knows I can be as annoyed with the liberal/progressive tendency to assume that their sort of ideals are — even if they’re based on sort of logical and factual ideas — that of course the world wants to move in this direction and just should because, well, you know, we just should become vegans because it will save the planet and that sort of thing. And yet they’re not taking into account human reality and the complexities of human reality because they’re so caught up in their ideals. And that is really what’s at the root of a lot of conservative reaction against liberalism originally was that liberals were kind of assuming that everybody else wanted to go there and that you were a bad person if you didn’t want to go there, right?
BARRY MAUER: To me, this goes back to the Enlightenment when the major Enlightenment figures started to imagine that the scientific paradigm — which they saw as so powerful and successful — and they started to imagine that it could govern human affairs, And they really moved too quickly and without considering the complexities and the irrationalities of human beings, And they thought that — they knew that humans were complex and irrational — but that a new paradigm could sort of cure us. So I’m thinking very much about a kind of politics that deals with the question of desire and the question of what I would call our blind spots. We need a politics of blind spots that enables us to look at ourselves.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well it enables us to absorb human nuance. One of the things we really have failed to do as liberals is to learn how to talk to people and how to talk people down from these positions. We instead resort to “you’re a racist, you’re a bigot, you’re a xenophobe, you’re sexist, or whatever.” And we pass these judgments, and maybe they’re accurate. But we end the conversation there. That ends the conversation and we need to see those as the beginning of the conversations. We need to say instead of “you’re a racist,” we go, “well that’s a racist thing to say but let’s talk about that.” And begin the conversation rather than just condemning them. This is where we often go wrong. Probably the next book I’m going to write after this — because when I got done writing Alt-America, I realized, well, we’re in this conundrum and I’ve been writing about it for years and eventually I need to write a book about what kind of solution can we have. And I really do believe that one of these days — hopefully soon, right after I get done promoting this book — I will write a book about the politics of empathy. I think we need to build a politics of empathy. I think that’s what progressives and liberals are fundamentally about. But we forget it too often, especially in our dealings with conservatives.
BARRY MAUER: I have kind of a conceptual understanding of that, which is if someone is still standing on my neck or kicking me, it’s hard for me to have empathy for that person. If they stop, then I can have consider a more empathetic response, but the ongoing harm caused by people who call themselves conservatives is so continual and so vast . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: Well, I would never suggest that we really go down that . . . there’s some people that are unreachable and we need to recognize that when we’re dealing with it and just kind of go, “well that’s a lost cause,” and let’s move on and I’ll talk rationally with rational people. There are a lot of conservative Trump voters who are still rational people; they just haven’t thought things through. They just haven’t seen the long-term consequences of these sorts of things.
BARRY MAUER: So with the other ones, the unreachables . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: the deplorables.
BARRY MAUER: Right, what Driftglass [liberal blogger] says is that we need some kind of policy of containment. Now whether that’s . . . like in my mind containment would mean we don’t grant them positions of authority, we don’t grant them legitimacy in public policy debates, we try everything we can to block them from appearing on television and spouting their garbage and so forth, and . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: Platforming them . . .
BARRY MAUER: Platforming. So to me that’s a containment policy.
DAVID NEIWERT: I’m all for that.
BARRY MAUER: So we talk about reaching individual people but there’s also what we were calling the group subject.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yes, true. How do we do it on a group basis? I’m not really good at that. Most of my thinking runs towards how we behave on sort of an individual basis, as interrelations, as how we talk to each other. I do believe that if you get enough people to practice a politics of empathy it would build a lot of momentum and create its own momentum and people would start doing that.
BARRY MAUER: A bottom up approach?
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, well look at what’s worked over the last ten years. Gay marriage: it happened bottom up. Marijuana legalization: bottom up. Those are the big changes over the last five to ten years and they all came bottom up; they didn’t come top down.
BARRY MAUER: And a lot of people were really surprised by how rapidly they took effect. Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable because the politics in this country was moving in the opposite direction. Florida passed not only a law banning gay marriage, because it was already illegal, they passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And so to reverse all that so quickly seemed unthinkable.
DAVID NEIWERT: And people forget that in 2008 Obama said, “No I would never approve gay marriage.”
BARRY MAUER: He led from behind on that one! (Laughs)
DAVID NEIWERT: He did! He did! And so I actually think a bottom up politics might actually be more effective than trying to strategize from top down. Part of my deal is that I’m not really a fan of partisan politics and I’m not really a fan of the way our politicians work and I tend to think most of our politicians tend to respond to bottom up, I think most of them take their positions drawn from what happens out there.
BARRY MAUER: I’m skeptical because I saw that study about how the .1% or the lobbyists get so much of what they want compared to what the voters want.
DAVID NEIWERT: So part of what’s really going on there is media, and particularly right wing media and propaganda media, the way it’s been able to transform people’s perceptions, particularly through purveying false and distorted information. And so it’s created this sort of epistemological bubble. People aren’t really living in reality.
BARRY MAUER: As a scholar I tend to look at things very long term — like thousands of years — so we have this theory called grammatology where we say well there was this period before writing, and people thought in terms of myths and they related to the world by means of ritual. And then with writing and print we later get philosophy and science and the Enlightenment is the result of that. And now we’re moving in to a new era of electracy, and liberalism is largely built on the logic and ethos of print. But print is not the dominant media in most people’s lives anymore and the media they are consumer is more similar to oral culture when you had ritual and myth. So I don’t think liberals have figured out how to actively engage in this world because in fact they’re still stuck in trying to preserve the world of print. And we all get frustrated. I hear other teachers all the time say, “Well, my students can’t read books; they can’t follow an argument. Twenty years ago this wasn’t true but now it is. They’re all tweeting and checking their phones and they’re not even present.” So strategically, I know you’ve been blogging and you’re out there in this media environment, but in some ways you’re still using print logic of evidence and reason and . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: totally
BM . . . trying to convince people that the thesis is correct and they’re maybe reacting emotionally like, “well, you’re part of my tribe or you’re not.” So where do we go?
DAVID NEIWERT: Good question. I don’t think there’s any particular easy way out. Ultimately, like I said, I think it may take some kind of disaster for us to wake up. We can all sit and kind of shake our fingers at “these young whippersnappers today!” But it doesn’t do a damn bit of good. You know, “Get off my lawn!” (Laughs)
BARRY MAUER: One of the things I also hear is, “well, they’re digital natives and they’re swimming in this new media environment and landscape.” But at the same time, as someone who taught film and video prior to this, I, well, my students, watch film and video all the time but actually know nothing about how it’s structured or its effects. So they’re native to it but they don’t understand it.
DAVID NEIWERT: They don’t think conceptually about it.
BARRY MAUER: We’re native English speakers but that doesn’t mean we have a formal grasp of structural grammar.
DAVID NEIWERT: Right, unless you majored in English.
BARRY MAUER: So just because people are natives doesn’t make them critical users at all. In fact, it may make them more susceptible to propaganda and delusion.
DAVID NEIWERT: I think so, because especially, as you say, they’re swimming in it and it becomes kind of a swirling flood at times and it’s very disorienting. So how do we know what’s truth, what’s factual? And it doesn’t help that sometimes mainstream media mis-reports and that gives a huge opening for the Infowars people to jump in and say “Aha! We’re the real media!” The conspiracy theorists will come out and say, “We’ve been right all along. They’re lying to you.”
BARRY MAUER: One of the approaches I’ve taken is to teach people about reasoning itself. So conspiracy theories are usually wrong because all they do is attempt to poke holes in accepted theories but they don’t offer a coherent counter-theory. If you had a coherent counter-theory you’d be able to critique it, but instead, like with the 9/11 “inside job” conspiracy theory, it’s all about poking holes in the existing theory rather than presenting a — if they try to present a counter-theory it falls apart because there’s no coherency. Why would you put bombs inside a building and then have planes fly into them? That doesn’t make any sense. Just blow up the bomb or use the plane. Why do both? None of the counter-theories make any sense. If you were looking for a pretext to go to war in the Middle East you wouldn’t need to do a false flag operation against the Twin Towers. You could come up with something else, so none of these theories make any sense and yet the attraction of the “hole-poking” approach is really attractive to people because the desire to figure things out and to not be lied to — it seems like that desire is precisely what makes people more susceptible to being lied to.
DAVID NEIWERT: Sure, well it’s not just the desire for that. One of the things that I kind of really observed way back in the 90s was that a lot of people who were attracted to the militia movement and adopted a lot all these conspiracy theories that fueled it, was that there’s also a real power to possessing information that nobody else has. To be, “Well, I know the real truth! I know the real facts!” That’s what Infowars is selling people — it’s this sort of cachet of, “well I know the real story, and, you know, I’ve peeked behind the curtain. All you sheeple out there — all you fools — I’m smarter than you!” Right? It’s a “smarter than you” thing. And a lot of it is people who are insecure, whatever kinds of insecurities. How do we deal with it? My high school daughter rolled her eyes at me when I say this, but I’ve argued for years that — I’m sure it’s because I was a philosophy major in college (that was one of my majors) — but I really believe that high school kids, at the high school level, we should be spending to get one year of philosophy: a semester of logic, a semester of ethics. Just real simple: basic, core philosophy. Because honestly, philosophy — logic and ethics — those are the two subjects that underscore everything we do: science, everything . . . sociology, all of the other issues. And if we understand the core principles there, and especially logic, those are tools that kids can use, those are tools that are really powerful, and nobody understands what a logical fallacy is. They don’t understand that here’s a long list of logical fallacies.
BARRY MAUER: Very long list — much longer than the list of approved logical moves!
DAVID NEIWERT: Right. Nobody can do a Venn diagram. Nobody understands how logic works. And it’s math; it’s just math in a lot of ways.
BARRY MAUER: Well, and it’s been removed I think for good reason — I mean not good from my point of view — but this used to be considered part of a classical education. I think the idea of critical thinking as being the root of not only the disciplines, which we’re hoping people will go into, but also citizenship, the whole notion of citizenship and what it means to be responsible for something greater than yourself, that’s gone. And — I’m going to complain here about the “me culture” — but really with Reagan on, this whole myth of the selfish individual, and the Randian — you know, Ayn Rand — fueling that, has taken off and really done serious damage to the notion of citizenship. So I think an education — and a media, like a mass media — that understood that critical thinking and citizenship go together, that needs to happen. So in some ways I’m a top down thinker because in top down, you have to have institutions to make that their priorities. And people working from the bottom up can’t necessarily change their institutions quite that way.
DAVID NEIWERT: True, but institutions will respond to those kinds of pressures: bottom up pressures.
BARRY MAUER: They will.
DAVID NEIWERT: And a lot of times they get stuck in their tracks because they aren’t getting that pressure because the status quo serves them.
BARRY MAUER: And plus the bottom up doesn’t know what they’re missing. So what’s really missing is critical thinking because people also overestimate their own ability to think critically.
DAVID NEIWERT: “I’m the smartest guy in the room!”
BARRY MAUER: “You can’t pull a fast one on me!”
DAVID NEIWERT: “It’s yuuge!”
BARRY MAUER: “The conspiracies! Only I know!”
DAVID NEIWERT: “Who knew that healthcare could be so complicated?”
BARRY MAUER: “Who knew? Or the Middle East? Who knew? Or North Korea?”
DAVID NEIWERT: And that’s part of why I think Trump was appealing to a lot of those folks.
BARRY MAUER: He simplified everything.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, and he had that sort of sense of assuredness that people found appealing, even when he was just completely off-his-rocker wrong.
BARRY MAUER: To me this is a symptom, it’s evidence, of how far away from a civilized society we’ve become when that works. Because in normal times, I would say, you’re always going to have a small percentage of the population that’s full of hate, that’s conspiracy minded, or they’re simpletons, or they’re just marginal or fringe groups, and you would expect a candidate like Trump to get 3%. That’s what I kept thinking; in normal times, someone like this would get 3%. But to win the presidency, it’s astounding. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the film Architecture of Doom? It’s a film about the Nazis, particularly their involvement with art, and how they subsumed politics to art, to aesthetics.
DAVID NEIWERT: Speer.
BARRY MAUER: Speer and Hitler himself. The conclusion is that the narrator says there was this bizarre undergrowth that came out and saw the light of day and took over, and normally that kind of stuff lives under a rock. The kind of stuff Trump supports normally lives under a rock, and the rock’s been removed. I wonder where we go with this. I’m pushing an analogy that this is sort of almost like a disease that’s been unleashed.
DAVID NEIWERT: It does feel, the way I kind of felt, is that it took the lid off the national id and the creepy crawlies came crawling right out. That’s certainly what we’ve been seeing.
BARRY MAUER: But is it the national id or is it . . . because what we normally talk about is this is the id of the extreme fringe, right? But if it’s the id of the nation, then . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: I just gave a talk to your group last night showing our very long history of this kind of stuff. So it’s really buried deep in our psyche. He’s drawn something out that, you know, it was probably more prevalent in the 20s and 30s. We sort of saw it then, but even then we didn’t have presidents who encouraged it, right? And that’s really the key, is that even though these forces have always been around they’ve never ascended to high office previously.
BARRY MAUER: I think the closest is probably Lindbergh.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, I would say so, very much so. There hasn’t been anyone very much like him. Huey Long was a pretty good analogy to Trump, I think, a classic right wing populist demagogue.
BARRY MAUER: But also one who had some sort of left wing economic platform.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, Long did have that. That was probably what saved him from being a monster. He actually did care about working people, unlike Trump who pretends that he cares about working people, but he has no idea what they’re like.
BARRY MAUER: So there’s this myth on the left too. They read obsessively about these stories of Trump voters, which the media supplies endless numbers of — you know, “I’m in a coffee shop in Iowa” — and waiting for the scales to fall from their eyes. And no matter what kind of shit Trump does . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: [pretending to be an Iowa Trump voter] “Oh, I think he’s just trying to do the right thing. Oh, I’m not really big on this but I still support him.” That sort of thing, right?
BARRY MAUER: So there’s this idea that the scales are going to fall. Is this just some mistaken thinking?
DAVID NEIWERT: Well only when there’s a giant disaster will the scales fall, only when there’s something of really epic proportions that happens. And even then it’s not clear that the scales will fall because if it’s horrible enough, people become frightened, and when people become frightened, they’re very attracted to authoritarianism and he’s already offering that. So it may actually harden things. I don’t know; it just depends on the nature of what happens. But I think there is going to be some kind of disaster. We’ll see how the response goes.
BARRY MAUER: It’s inevitable because he’s at war with reality. Reality tends to win.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, I’m frightened and scared today.
BARRY MAUER: My biggest fear — nuclear war is up there — but environmental catastrophe. Just driving to work today there was a story; 50% of the coral reefs have died in the last couple decades and 90% of the remainder is expected to die by 2050. And half a billion people are dependent on coral reefs for their existence.
DAVID NEIWERT: More than that, more than that. Let’s be clear. If coral reefs go, that means the whole oceanic ecosystem is going to collapse. It means that we’re not going to be able to use the oceans as a viable source of food anymore, and that’s going to starve a lot more than just those half a billion people who rely on those coral reefs. It’s going to affect everybody that’s fishing for a living. And especially if we have ocean acidification, that’s going to wipe out all kinds of fisheries. All of these environmental changes are just going to have really profound effects on our ability to just feed ourselves.
BARRY MAUER: It will have effects on land and in the air too. The ocean is not a totally separate thing. So because we’re already at the precipice of catastrophe, even if the Democrats win one of the — either the house or the senate in the next couple years — this is not going to pull us back from the brink of catastrophe. We’re still headed towards it at top speed.
DAVID NEIWERT: We sure are.
BARRY MAUER: When George W. Bush was in office, he hit a sort of triple catastrophe. Iraq, Katrina . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: 9/11 . . .
BARRY MAUER: See, 9/11 should have been a catastrophe for Bush, but he played it as if it wasn’t.
DAVID NEIWERT: As a unification thing.
BARRY MAUER: Well, as if he hadn’t failed. It was in fact his failure.
DAVID NEIWERT: He was asleep at the wheel. And nobody called him out on that. Some of that was Democrats wanting to be nice.
BARRY MAUER: So that didn’t work against him but certainly Iraq after a certain point did, Katrina, and then the financial collapse, so by that point people, even Republicans, were fed up. But even when that happens, the scales that fall from their eyes aren’t about their core beliefs; they’re about this one person. So “Bush failed us. Bush failed conservatism.” It’s not that conservatism is flawed, or “our beliefs are flawed.”
DAVID NEIWERT: That’s a Digby-ism (Digby is a progressive blogger] — “conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed.”
BARRY MAUER: So again I think liberals are delusional when they think that there will be a point of catastrophe that will make people drop their ideologies. It doesn’t happen that much. The way I think of it is with cults. Almost nothing will separate people from their cults.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well I will say that between Bush’s reelection in 2004 and 2008, there was a significant shift. By 2007, 2006 really, people were done with whatever Bush was selling. And a lot of that was just kind of slow building momentum. It wasn’t necessarily the catastrophes, but they played a powerful role, particularly Katrina, in shifting people’s attitudes. And, you know, it worked for a couple years.
BARRY MAUER: Well, that’s the thing — why doesn’t it work for forty years?
DAVID NEIWERT: A lot of it had to do with the media. The fact is that in 2008, after that election, the story line should have been that Bush-ism and conservatism had been repudiated, because they had. They won the congressional election; they won the presidential election. It was a pretty sweeping victory in 2008. And there should have been a media narrative about how conservatism had been repudiated. It never happened. Part of it was sort of, “well that’s gauche.” Part of it is the hangover, the effect, of the “liberal media bias” accusations that are still very much a part of the newsroom, and they shape the media narrative. So after 9/11 there should have been a media narrative about how Bush was asleep at the wheel. Nobody wanted to take it on because it was considered rude and gauche to say so. It was considered unpatriotic to say so. But it was a fact. He was asleep at the wheel. He totally ignored all these warnings and had done nothing about them. And not only that, he actually gutted the counter-terrorism agencies. Prior to that his first budget had gutted that agency.
BARRY MAUER: His thing was tax cuts.
DAVID NEIWERT: He wanted tax cuts. That’s all he cared about. That was also reflected in his first budget, which was — they managed to transform a $24 billion surplus into a deficit within the first year, mainly because of the tax cuts. The funny thing is when eight years later Obama assumed the presidency they were suddenly lecturing us on deficits.
BARRY MAUER: I’ve got upper division honors students and I ask, did Obama increase the deficits during his term and they all said yes because that’s the narrative. But he had decreased them by about three-quarters.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well, he initially had to pump them up.
BARRY MAUER: Yes, initially to save the banking system.
DAVID NEIWERT: And the car industry and all these things, yeah.
BARRY MAUER: But from first year to last it went way down, although not all of it was his doing.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yes he got them down below the level that Bush had pumped them up to. And Bush used the excuse of 9/11 and the war for continuing those deficits but the cause of them of course was the Bush tax cuts.
BARRY MAUER: The much bigger cause, yeah. And the same thing again with the perception that Obama had raised everyone’s taxes; in fact he had cut them. And 90% of the country believed he had raised them and 90% of the country had gotten a tax cut.
DAVID NEIWERT: So actually that’s the media narrative. I’ve been talking about the politics of empathy, but I obviously need to talk about media reform at some point. Really we need to get the profit motive out of media, out of our information dispersal system. That’s really what’s driving this is that the media and the people who are doing our news are now being driven by what will draw the most eyeballs, what will draw the most readers. So we are getting all this sensational stuff and we also avoid that get at an unpleasant truth. Those are ongoing problems. I think we need to get corporations out of the news. But how we do that? I don’t know.
BARRY MAUER: “It’s a free market!”
DAVID NEIWERT: It might take someone inventing a new kind of media.
BARRY MAUER: I think there are alternatives to just you either a free market or a state-owned market and this sort of binary, and one would be, you know, you need refs, essentially, we need referees and currently we don’t have anything like that. And the other thing is that the Republicans have actively tried to destroy any kind of ref system basically through the FCC and other agencies that used to have some kind of oversight. They’ve gone after them and turned them into kind of “fox-henhouse” kinds of things.
DAVID NEIWERT: Sure, well the whole “liberal media bias” thing was always a working the refs situation anyway. It’s a real issue. A lot of the reason I left MSNBC was that I was just tired of having my stuff shoved into a back corner by editors who were afraid of being accused of having a liberal media bias. And I actually won a National Press Club award for this reporting on domestic terrorism and they buried it. I was like . . .
BARRY MAUER: What’s it gonna take?
DAVID NEIWERT: What is it going to take? And I could see right there in our newsroom we had reporters who openly and specifically hired because they were openly conservative.
BARRY MAUER: Sure. You gotta have one or you’ll be accused of “liberal media bias.”
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, but there weren’t any actual open liberals. There were no open conservatives anywhere in the newsroom. We were all just reporters. We were all just media people. I became de facto the reigning liberal in the newsroom because I was the one taking the bullshit on. Nobody else was willing to call “bullshit” on this stuff, and, you know, that’s what journalists do is call “bullshit.”
BARRY MAUER: So to come back to this notion of the refs and the public and the media, I think what the right has done very successfully — and I do look at people like Bernard Goldberg or . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: Bill O’Reilly . . .
BARRY MAUER: Well, more the theorist people — [David] Horowitz — is that they theorize we can make a whole spectrum of political thought just off limits. All of liberal — anything [left] of center — we can make off limits, politically deadly to go there. And the left — being generally nice people — and they’ve called it an act of war. I mean, Horowitz, literally, said, “This is war.” And they’re trying to salt the earth — I think he referred to that — so that no liberal ideas will grow again. And the left has seen that as hyperbole or hasn’t taken it seriously or refused to fight back and say, “well, you know, really right wing ideas are not legitimate ideas. We need to salt the earth of those ideas.” They’ve not done that.
DAVID NEIWERT: This kind of gets back to our problem of just calling people racists. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing for a long time is, well, we’ve created these sort of tags that will toxify people. If we’re able to apply them successfully to people then they become persona non grata.
BARRY MAUER: But if you say “liberal = socialist, socialist = communist, communist = traitor,” as soon as you say “liberal,” you’ve completed the whole chain.
DAVID NEIWERT: And obviously the right’s very good at that. But liberals do it with racism, sexism, bigotry, and those sorts of things. Those are the limits that we sort of use to delegitimize conservatives.
BARRY MAUER: But those are actual problems!
DAVID NEIWERT: Very true, but my feeling is that we do it in a very facile way. We do it in a way that’s just like [slaps table] slap that label on and we don’t engage beyond it. We assume that the work’s done once we’ve slapped that label on.
BARRY MAUER: So here’s something that I would say to a class. I would say, “Probably none of you in here would say that you’re racist.” And they would all say, “yeah, that’s true, that’s true.” “Well, do we live in a white supremacist society?” They might not say so, but I’d say lets look at the evidence, right? And just go through a bunch of statistics and go through the stuff you presented, and they’ll pretty much all agree at some point that we, pretty much, we live in a white supremacist society. “So, if you’re not actually trying to change that white supremacist society, then you’re part of a racist system, aren’t you?” And then they start to get uncomfortable because in fact it’s true.
DAVID NEIWERT: Or they’ll become very defensive and give you all kinds of rationalizations for why they’re not.
BARRY MAUER: [voicing rationalization] “Well, I’ve never done x, y, and z.”
DAVID NEIWERT: [voicing rationalization] “Some of my best friends are black.”
BARRY MAUER: Yeah, but you’re part of a system that, for five hundred years, consistently has screwed over this group of people, that group of people, and so on.
DAVID NEIWERT: And what are you doing to change that?
BARRY MAUER: What are you doing to change that?
DAVID NEIWERT: It was something I kind of went through when I was a young man because I really was into old west history and studied it quite deeply and I came to realize my own ancestors had been part of this — my great grandfather was somebody . . . There had been a run on . . . For a long time a lot of Native American treaties got torn up and rewritten and that’s how they lost a lot of their land that they had originally been given on these reservations. This was especially the case on this reservation I worked on down on — I was a reporter for the tribe because I worked on the Blackfoot paper there in southeastern Idaho, and the tribe was my beat and I got pretty well familiar with the history of that reservation and found out that it taken up tis huge [area] originally and had taken up this whole eastern corner of Idaho. And then in 1905 or 1906 I think it was, the government decided to just reduce it to its current size, which was a much smaller reservation, and it created all these open lands for people in what’s now Pocatello and all these other places that are now fully populated by white people. And there was this big land rush to grab this land as soon as they opened it up and sure enough I figured out that one of these people was my great-grandfather was one of the people who had done that and he had kind of based our family fortunes, such as it was, on having done that because he farmed this land, kind of built up the family. Being in road construction, he lost most of that fortune. Supposedly it was the depression but I found out later it was actually gambling. He was a Jack Mormon (Laughs).
BARRY MAUER: It was a depression, but a very local one.
DAVID NEIWERT: (Laughs). But at any rate, I had to come to terms with the reality that my own grandfather participated in this theft from Native Americans. You know, it was outright theft. And so I realized, well, I can’t do anything about that. I can’t change that. I can’t do anything to change what’s happened. But what I can do is work to fix it today, the effects of that bad behavior today. I can help lift these tribal members out of their horrible economic state and things like that. That’s what we need to start thinking about. A lot of people when they’re confronted with these realities are like, “well, that’s not my fault! How can you blame me for what somebody did forty years ago or a hundred years ago?” And we’re not blaming you for that, but you need to take responsibility for . . .
BARRY MAUER: the legacy.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well no. Those things gave you an advantage. They gave you an advantage as a white person.
BARRY MAUER: The playing field is not even.
DAVID NEIWERT: The playing field is not even and it sets you up in a way that those victims don’t have now. And so what you can do is to fix that.
BARRY MAUER: But what we’re told is actually that white working class resentment is what fueled Trump, so it’s the opposite. And, again, it’s the assumption that it’s a zero sum game. And I think liberals need to state pretty clearly that it’s not a zero sum game.
DAVID NEIWERT: Right, they need to push “the rising tide lifts all boats.”
BARRY MAUER: Well Sanders did. But he ignored the history of racism in doing so. He believed that only economic issues are at stake and not other ones.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well, that economic issue would solve everything else. And I think that we can demonstrate pretty definitively that that’s never the case. We were going to talk about are left wing people as bad as right. You want to deal with that?
BARRY MAUER: Sure, let’s deal with that. I know Drifty loves to talk about the false equivalence or the both-siderism. He says it’s the dominant media narrative, that if there’s some gross offense on the right, you have to find or equate it to something on the left. Trump’s business dealings — that comes up — Trump University being a total fraud, you point to Hillary’s emails, and you always say, “Well, both sides do it.” But also we were talking about extremism and crime on the right and there seems to be no equivalent on the left.
DAVID NEIWERT: There’s sort of an ethos in the media business that — and I try to observe it as much as I can, too — that you criticize all sides for whatever misdeeds might happen. You do so without regard to ideology but rather to the misdeed itself. And that’s a pretty good ethos, generally speaking, but a lot of people who work in newsrooms — and I think it spread to the general public too — sort of translated that into the fallacy of the middle. The fallacy of the middle is the idea that the truth and the reality lies somewhere between the two extremes. Right? And that’s a very attractive thing. It’s sort of what drives centrism and it’s actually the base of the ideology of centrism. And it’s based of this logical fallacy. Because if you have someone who says 2+2=4 and another person says 2+2=6, you don’t say, “oh, the answer must be 5” because it’s right in between the two. Now that’s not how it works. One person’s wrong and one person’s right. And there are a lot of other complex issues where, yeah, we can find that grey area between the two. But a lot of times, that simply doesn’t apply. Sometimes it’s just a lie versus the truth. And we need to recognize that. But what the media often does is it creates this idea that, “well, both sides do it. Yeah, sure these right wingers are really badly behaved but these left wingers can be just as bad too.” So clearly the antifa [anti-fascist] movement is kind of helping play into that narrative when it comes to right wing violence because well now they’re acting out violently too. But the reality is that right wing violence has been a problem for a very long time in this country, especially in the last twenty years, and it’s been intense in the last six.
BARRY MAUER: And the antifa movement — its rapid growth — really only occurred after the election and so it’s not like it’s been brewing.
DAVID NEIWERT: And it’s very limited. It’s very limited to basically a few demonstrations in a few cities. Whereas right wing violence is something that is national: spread all across the country in every state and every city. We have hate crimes, we have domestic terrorism; we have all kinds of cases where violent behavior by right wing extremists has become very common. It’s become so common that the media don’t really even bother to report on it because it’s considered unimportant. We’re having this outbreak right now of sovereign citizen cases all over the country and no one’s paying attention to it except SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center].
BARRY MAUER: There’s a lot of ways to muddy the waters. And they’ve done it, for example, if you want to talk about anti-black violence, you point out “black on black” violence. Or if you want to complain about the shootings and killing by alt-right terrorists, you make up a list of crimes by immigrants, which is what Trump’s trying to do. So all these things are attempts to muddy the waters and prevent us from seeing what’s really happening.
DAVID NEIWERT: Correct. Yeah, well that’s how they defend themselves. Because once you sort of roll the facts out, they’re pretty hard to refute. So what you do is muddy the perception of them as much as you possibly can. The right’s very very good at that. The idea that there are left-wingers out there who are committing equivalent acts of violence to what we’re seeing on the right, like I said last night, there’s nobody on the left who has done what Jim David Adkisson or any number of other right wing killers have done, which is walk into a church and just start killing people because they’re the wrong ideology. And he was just one of quite a few cases that were similar to that. And clearly we have Islamists doing that but they’re not left wing.
BARRY MAUER: No. That’s another mistake too, that somehow the left is apologetic for Islamist terrorism.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, which is total nonsense. We defend Muslims. We defend mainstream Muslims. We do not defend Islamist terrorists. But by defending Muslims we’re supposedly defending terrorists.
BARRY MAUER: Right. “Soft on terrorism.” When in fact, the right even says if Islam is against terrorism, they should denounce it. They say that repeatedly, and they seem to ignore all the times that mainstream Islamic figures have denounced terrorism and that the left defending mainstream Islam is part of the very program that they’re calling for.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well don’t you think it’s interesting that really this has only been happening in perhaps the last five years? So, let me be clear in my disdain for George W. Bush’s presidency in just about every regard, but one thing he did right, was totally right, was he came out and defended Muslims, very early on. Right immediately. And he never let his administration go there because he understood that. I didn’t think Bush was that bright, but he was at least bright enough to get that.
BARRY MAUER: I think he used the word “crusade” once and he was corrected and he never used it again.
DAVID NEIWERT: And not only that, his administration very studiously followed that policy and set out to sustain it and give him total credit for that. I was afraid after — I was in the middle of putting together my book on the Japanese-American internment — and I was really afraid after 9/11 that we were going to have another episode.
BARRY MAUER: There were calls for it.
DAVID NEIWERT: There certainly were. And boy, you know, I’ll just totally credit Bush for that.
BARRY MAUER: And the rhetoric from Bush was a bit different from his actions, because of course throughout the country, there was an increase in the harassment of Muslims by government officials and so on. But it is important when leaders don’t pick up the dangerous rhetoric, that they distance themselves from it, even if their policies don’t reflect this enlightened view.
DAVID NEIWERT: So we had those eight years of Bush where they really kind of kept the lid on it. We started seeing about 2007–2008, before he left office, this rise in Islamophobic groups. Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America: all these groups started coagulating. And when they became active, and they started becoming well funded and spreading their propaganda, especially when they were getting on Fox News, and getting on Rush Limbaugh, and all these other things, that’s when we started seeing real Islamophobia sort of starting taking root in this country. Not after 9/11 but really as Bush was leaving office. That’s when it started getting fueled and then once Obama became president, it just became a wildfire.
BARRY MAUER: I think it had been latent for a while. I mean since like the Iranian Revolution and there was certainly an outcry then, but also a total failure to understand that Islam is not one thing. Like the Shiites and the Sunnis are quite different . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: and let’s not even get into the Sufis, you know? (Laughs)
BARRY MAUER: Right. And there’s a sort of mindlessness to right wing thinking about enemies, which is you paint with the broadest of brushes and lump people together as un-American and so on, and you sweep up friends as well as enemies. And in fact strategically that’s a really dumb thing to do.
DAVID NEIWERT: Well yeah, especially if you want to be based in reality. The reality is that it’s full of nuance and grey areas. And a really effective policy that is humane and is effective has to be humane, has to take into account that human nuance. That’s something that liberals aren’t all that good at either — dealing with nuance — especially when it comes to thinking about their opposition. They use that sort of brute hammer to hammer people with rather than . . . and it create this resentment that leads to this hatred of “political correctness.” It just sets people up to be susceptible to that. What I do wish is that liberals could learn to be unequivocal and firm and unapologetic for their beliefs without being transgressive and sort of offensive about it.
BARRY MAUER: Here’s how I’ve been thinking of it as like a therapeutic situation. So like if someone comes into therapy and — of course people will always complain about other people — so if people really are causing problems in their own lives and for the lives of others around them, and they’re in denial about it, you can’t really get anywhere unless that denial is confronted. And as soon as you confront that denial you risk that person getting up and walking out.
DAVID NEIWERT: Right, of course. Even if you approach it kindly and inoffensively that can take offense, right, and walk out. Then you’re just kind of lost. But I think that there’s just ways to do it. Sometimes it’s not going to work but sometimes it will. Over time you can maybe have enough success with enough people to maybe . . . I don’t know. I’m not really good at thinking about how we go from individual action to mass action. I don’t really have a good handle on that. But I do think that all mass action has to start with individuals. You know, we have to make our own changes in our own lives in order to affect mass change.
BARRY MAUER: I see that as a huge lift. It’s a Sisyphean task to roll the boulder up the hill precisely because if the institutions in our lives are not behaving in ways that are conducive to the democratic impulse or citizenship, it’s very hard to roll that boulder up by yourself or even with the help of individual people around you.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah it is a huge lift. I don’t know how we do it, and yeah, I think it does need to draw institutions in. Clearly you need alliances and things like that. But I think there are ways to do that too. It probably has to be both. It probably has to be both individuals and institutions. I haven’t really thought through how we get the institutions involved because it’s not my bailiwick really. I’m better dealing with people.
BARRY MAUER: That’s where I’m thinking about.
DAVID NEIWERT: I think that’s good. I’d like to hear your thoughts more on that as we go along, because that’s really valuable. Yeah, but also media: the one institution I do think about is the media. And that’s the one area that I can speak with some authority on because I worked in it for so long. Ultimately it’s an intractable issue because it ultimately comes down to corporate ownership of these media institutions and how do you change that? How do you get rid of that?
BARRY MAUER: Well with universities too, the issue of who we’re really serving. I’ll just speak about UCF and we have a research park off the main campus that’s bigger than the campus, and the campus is huge. But the research park is filled with buildings by the Air Force, and the Navy, and Raytheon, and GE, and Siemens, and . . .
DAVID NEIWERT: Right, I was talking with Siemens people this morning at the hotel.
BARRY MAUER: So, you know, we serve them. And when I talk with those people they say, “Well, there’s no conflict with your other core missions.” And I say, “Well, you know, it’s easy for you to believe that. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t think it’s true.” But now actually state funding for our university is now 22% of our budget. State universities used to get 80% of their budget from the state. So they make up that difference somehow. And they turn to corporations, and they also don’t want to offend anybody because the legislature is predominantly Republican. They don’t want to say, “Well, you know what? For us to be a functional university, we really need to put a stop to misinformation and delusion in our culture.” We can’t say that because we would be going right after their core beliefs. So we step very gingerly around that. But the other thing is that universities, like other institutions, declare principles that are generally quite humane and quite enlightened. And my argument is always to hold them to their principles. So it shouldn’t be a question of trying to radically change the institution because its values are already laudable. It’s a question of how do you keep them to those values. And the same thing’s true of the news media. It’s stated values are that it serves the interests of the people and the democracy and it holds the powerful to account.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah and it afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
BARRY MAUER: Yeah but they don’t do that in practice.
DAVID NEIWERT: Hell no!
BARRY MAUER: They don’t state, “Our stated values are to deliver the public to advertisers and manipulate public opinion for profit,” and that’s not their stated values.
DAVID NEIWERT: But that’s their actual values that they operate on, especially after corporate ownership began. And that’s why I tend to focus on media that . . . I think educational institutions are really critical too, and ultimately government and political institutions, and those institutions, you know, I’m not in them enough that I can talk about them authoritatively or think about them even authoritatively. I’m more interested in listening to whatever other people who are within those institutions have to say. But I can talk about the media as an institution, for sure, as one that needs to change. And I actually think that that’s got to be the start. I think that political and even educational institutions respond to and reflect the outcome of media narratives.
BARRY MAUER: Speaking of the net-roots stuff that related to this, I remember during the Iraq war that the Downing Street papers were a big deal worldwide but nobody in the U.S. knew about it. Net-roots people were pushing the media outlets to cover the story and hardly any of them did.
DAVID NEIWERT: Trent Lott: classic example. It actually gave rise to the blogosphere in a lot of ways. His remarks about Strom Thurmond were initially totally ignored by the media, gut it was blogs that picked them up and circulate them and made them into an issue. Finally the media had to pay attention to it and it wound up bringing him down as senate majority leader.
BARRY MAUER: I heard Jason Chaffetz is not going to run again and that might be another example of root-based opposition.
DAVID NEIWERT: Yeah, again: ground-up is so much more powerful and effective than what we can do top-down. I think it has to be both. You have to go both ways working in conjunction. I don’t think we can get there without some bottom-up. All right, so now we’ve solved the world’s problems . . . (Laughs)
BARRY MAUER: once this gets seen! (Laughs)
DAVID NEIWERT: It’s going to change the world.
BARRY MAUER: Yes.
David Neiwert is an investigative journalist based in Seattle and a contributing writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is the author of the forthcoming Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (Verso Press, Fall 2017). He is also the author of And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border (NationBooks, March 2013) — winner of the General Nonfiction first-place prize in the International Latino Book Awards — as well as The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (PoliPoint Press, May 2009); Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community (Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press, June 2005), Death on the Fourth of July: The Story of a Killing, a Trial, and Hate Crime in America, (Palgrave/St. Martin’s, 2004), and In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press). Neiwert’s book about killer whales, Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us (2015, The Overlook Press), was a Washington State Book Award finalist. He is also the co-author, with John Amato, of Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane (2010, PoliPoint Press). His reportage for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. Neiwert’s work can be found at the SPLC’s blog, Hatewatch. He is also the senior editor of Crooks and Liars. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barry Jason Mauer is an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Central Florida, and is interim director of the Texts and Technology Ph.D. program. His published work focuses on developing new research practices in the arts and humanities. His latest research is about citizen curating, which aims at enlisting a corps of citizens to curate exhibits, both online and in public spaces, using archival materials available in museums, libraries, public history centers, and other institutions. He also publishes online comics about delusion and denial, particularly as they affect the realm of politics. In addition, Mauer is an accomplished songwriter and recording artist. Mauer completed his graduate studies at the University of Florida in the Department of English, where he worked under the direction of professors Gregory Ulmer and Robert Ray. He lives in Orlando with his wife and daughter, two dogs, and his cat. He can be contacted at email@example.com.