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The Biden Presidency, the Disruption in the GOP’s Master Plan

Published in Medium November 15, 2020

While the world celebrates Joe Biden’s election as the 46th US President, little attention is being paid to the fact that president Trump received more than 74 million votes in this historic year of voter turnout. After 4 years of mayhem and mismanagement of the executive office, sentiment among democrats was running high that their fellow republicans had become concerned citizens after Trump proved to be an unfit, immoral and dangerous executive who has undermined the virtues of the office granted him under our constitutional democracy. The moral outrage ran high among Democrat party officials and with Trump’s utter mismanagement of the Coronavirus, a democratic sweep of both the White House and the Congress was a likely possibility. Just as we had done 4 years earlier, we relied on the pollsters who used the same methods and metrics and sat back with high expectations that the GOP will be weakened to the point that it will finally disappear giving birth to a new dawn in politics.

Well, the pollsters and the Democrats were wrong again. While Biden has convincingly won the presidency, the GOP remains a formidable political force the Democrats have to content with for decades to come.  The question that must be on the minds of so many around the world and especially our allies is this: How could 74 million Americans vote for a president with proven tendencies towards authoritarian populism and the unyielding intent to subvert liberal democratic values? The answer to that question lies beyond the personality of the man himself who has to be the worst puppet the Republicans could have possibly put on the presidential stage. Trump is a symptom of a political party that has been moving towards radicalization and extremes for decades. The difference between him and other GOP politicians is that Trump doesn’t have the temperament to hide behind the veil of political subversion which the GOP has mastered over the years. Like a fool in a game of poker who lacks the disposition needed to bluff, he shows his bad hand then goes into a rage at the table lying and insulting those who don’t see him holding winning cards. This is the same hand that the GOP has held for years as they stealthily moved further and further away from the political center. Their winning streak has been in their bluff not in the merits of a clean win needed to keep a thriving democracy moving forward.

In a recent landmark study on political polarization conducted by the non-partisan and highly respected Brookings Institute, researchers sought to map out the division between our two political parties over time and to identify the main turning points that led to where we are today. Their findings show that the political center that existed a few decades ago no longer exists. It has been weakened primarily by the GOP. The study concluded that while the Democrats have moved slightly to the left of the political spectrum, the Republicans have moved so far to the right of it, they became deeply uncompromising and antagonistic to the other side. Without having the deep resources and research capabilities that the Brooking Institute has, my own research into the long wave socioeconomic value systems of this country led me to the same conclusion seven years earlier with much of the same findings on the crucial turning points of the GOP as those in the Brookings report. My findings are detailed in parts of my 2013 book MEMEnomics; The Next Generation Economic System. What follows here is an updated summary that includes the added polarization caused by Donald Trump’s presidency and the further movement of the GOP to the most dangerous and extreme position on the right of a modern-day political spectrum.

 

My work in the field of macroeconomics and social change is done through a unique evolutionary prism on values. This is the cultural change model known as Spiral Dynamics which I have covered in detail in many of my earlier posts on Medium. Many of the political as well as the economic models in our history and from around the world can be reframed through the culturewide evolutionary lens of the framework. It is important to remember that the higher stages in the model include the best and healthiest values of the lower stages. Those who use the model to influence cultural and political change, like its original author Don Beck always start by asking the question: Where do certain models of political and economic leadership fall on the Spiral? In 2000, Don Beck introduced a model that addresses the very nature of political leadership around the world called Stratified Democracy.[1] It sought to place the different political systems around the world on to the eight known levels of psychosocial systems that define the model.

His research at the time pointed to the US being a Multiparty Democracy that allowed for other voices in the political arena to rise based on their merit. Although the political system in the US has traditionally favored the two-party system, Beck’s observation then was that as long as the political center was strong and remained in an open state, the process itself will reflect the federalist nature of our democracy and lead to further inclusion and diversity of views on both sides of political spectrum. This reality was not to hold as the US began to visibly move away from the political center after the election of George W. Bush coupled with the deceptive wars that followed the events of 9/11 and the permanent damage caused by the 2008 financial crisis.  In later years in my conversations with Beck about his initial findings, he acknowledged that while his original conception had remained as an effective general guide to governance, the political landscape in the US has changed considerably since the research was conducted.  Beck argued that while the federalist form remains at the heart of the republic, the two political parties have moved away from the all-important political center where effective governance resides.

This adjustment to the model is reflected in the work of Beck’s partner Elza Maalouf at the Center for Human Emergence Middle East in her 2014 book Emerge! Beck was content advisor for the book and in it, Maalouf further differentiates the Stratified Democracy Model into a Functional Democracy model.[2] Based on the direction the American political system had taken in 1 ½ decades since the original research was done, Maalouf and Beck concluded that due to external factors influencing the system that a sub-stage on the political evolutionary ladder was born. It lies somewhere between level 4, Authoritarian Democracy and level 5 Multiparty Democracy. It is a hybrid stage that is unique to the US and borrows from both levels of values. While many don’t associate US democracy with authoritarianism, the behind the scenes movement away from the political center by the Republicans, has forced both parties into rigid states of existence using tactics from lower systems in order to survive or to counter the void left in the absence of a strong center. A closer examination of the table below which is extracted from Maalouf’s work shows the possible movement of political values either up or down from the stages depicted in Beck’s original model. From the table one can see where the values of a leader like Trump come from. His presidency identifies more with the exploitive expression of the values of the 4thsystem and a clear embrace of the values of the 3rd system. These are the values that closely define dictatorships and third world autocracies more than they do liberal democracies.

Politics Under the Spell Economics

 The strong center that existed when Beck conducted his original research was a time when major shifts in the US socioeconomic landscape were beginning to take place. During the Clinton years, our democracy identified more with the political values of the fifth level which included much of the healthy and evolved values of the fourth level. Clinton was riding on the coattails of a new era of deregulation ushered in by the first Reagan Administration through policies known as Raeganomics. The Raegan revolution was greatly influenced by a new economic ideology from the Chicago School of Economics called Monetarism which took the country by storm and created a new paradigm that defined the entire political landscape that kept both parties close to the center. These were prosperous times that witnessed a shift in thinking from big brother knows best to corporations know best and it colored the views of both the right and the left. Deregulation, lower taxes and trickle-down economics became the buzz words that got a lowly politician from either side elected to office. While the democrats marveled at Clinton’s bipartisan deal making in this new era, conservatives joined hands with business leaders behind the scenes to complete what Raegan started: handing over the powers of government to the private sector. It was this unopposed push to the right that helped put in place structures and ideologies that defined the trajectory of the GOP for several decades that ended up giving us Donald Trump.

Here’s the arc of that trajectory: Monetarism was a catalyst that moved the US away from industrial capitalism to the seductive arms of financial capitalism. Whatever increased the bottom line of a corporation was a good thing that kept both political sides happy. Unions were weakened, jobs were outsourced and factories were closed and as long as that improved the corporate bottom line and gave us cheap products, the political center held. The Democrats didn’t bother looking at the long-term effects this was having on the working class and the future of their party. Behind the scenes however, the right moved unabated in its continued efforts to hand government over to the private sector. The Chicago School of Economics gave way to its younger and more bigoted sibling the Virginia School of Economics. The ideological father of the Virginia School was a southern racist by the name James M. Buchanan who never acknowledged the defeat of the south in the civil war.[3] Buchanan sought modern revenge the only way he knew how: by moving the goalpost for prosperity further away from minorities and the working class and handing it to the business sector lead predominantly by rich white conservative men. His ideology sought to make government a wholly-owned subsidiary of the private sector, which found resonance with many libertarians and staunch conservatives like the Koch brothers. It gave legitimacy to corporate lobbying and acknowledged the rights of corporations in shaping politics. First came the Citizens United movement that granted corporations the same rights as people and allowed for super-sized Political Action Committees (PACs) to influence political outcomes. Then came the birth of the Tea Party, which the GOP exploited as the patriotic, down-to-earth face of the right that sought to limit the role of government and lower taxes. While this behind the scenes push to the right continued unabated, the hapless Democrats did very little to examine the role of money and corporate influence in shaping the hearts and the minds of the American voter.

The fallacy of a political system influenced by major corporations began to show cracks with the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. Suddenly the private sector that sought to render government obsolete, was begging that same government to bail it out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. One would think that this would have been the perfect time to pull the rug out from under this grotesque expression of political capitalism, but that was only wishful thinking. Instead of the financial crisis being the inflection point that wrestled democracy from the grip of finance, the hapless democrats who controlled both the House and the Senate, voted for the bailout. The shift to corporations know best was complete. It had become the only guide that steered both political parties. So much so, that there were no influential institutions or politicians left that would have argued convincingly against a government bailout. After the major banks were rescued, the political ideologies of the right moved to a toxic extreme position on the political spectrum with pockets full of money and gave the reins to the Obama administration to do the cleanup work the GOP was incapable of doing. This is a zombie state of the long-wave cycle I call Only Money Matters, which gave life to a bankrupted ideology and prevented the birth of a new political and economic dawn.[4] As the GOP regained the majority in the Senate the face of corporations know best became that of the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who summarized the extreme positions of both the GOP and the much greater forces behind it by declaring himself the Grim Reaper of the Democrat agenda. What was not being said by McConnell is that he was appointed by special interest groups as the general in the final battle over government by the people.

While Obama and the Democrats fixed parts of the economy and introduced many needed programs, it’s important to note that this was all being done in a much smaller timeframe of eight years that fell within the confines of a bigger system steered by the far bigger forces behind the corporations know best values and the Reagan revolution. Obama and the Democrats did manage to put some cracks in that system which by then was running on automatic through a complex architecture that made money and corporate interest inextricable parts of the political system. By the time the Obama years came to an end, the economy was in a much better place, but structural reforms that address deeper issues such as income inequality and the regulation of capital markets remained greatly unchallenged. However, for the guardians of the bigger system like the Koch brothers, the small cracks Obama and the Democrats put in it became their sole focus as they and the GOP moved from the insufficient positions of radicals and extremists and fell in line with McConnell’s kill-everything-democrat position. For political scientists this is a crucial stage in the life of a political system; It spells the end of a two-party system. On the right-left political spectrum, there are only two directions a system can move when one party reaches this extreme position, or what the Brookings Institute calls uncompromising and antagonistic. The obvious direction is for it to move back towards the center in search of balance that serves the whole country and provides for party preservation. The other is for it to completely fall off the right-left political spectrum resulting in one party rule.  This was the direction in which Donald Trump tipped the scales that began America’s descent into mayhem and lawlessness.

The platform to kill-everything-democrat and hand the full power of our institutions to special interest was now within reach. The McConnell-Trump duo controlled the Senate and the executive branch and, as luck would have it, vacancies on the Supreme Court allowed Trump to appoint conservative justices who are more inclined to favor rulings informed by the corporations know best values. Moreover, with the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic, the stage was set for the Supreme Court to roll back more than fifty years of progress on women’s right and other civil liberties.  This was the trifecta that corporations and special interest groups have been working on for four decades. The gaslighting of half of America was complete. Lower taxes and a healthy stock market are the only things that matter in life. Pay no attention to the mentally unstable man in the White House who has gutted America’s institutions and subverted its democratic virtues. Pay no attention to the fact that the economy has consistently fared better under a Democrat. Morality? What morality? So, what if the president is the biggest depraved and immoral bully in the history of this country? Just look at my 401K and ignore the facts -all facts. It’s only money that matters dummy.  This narrowing of the minds on the right and their commitment to identify with a party even after it fell so dangerously to the bottom is at the heart of what’s wrong with the GOP and its constituencies. In a recent survey, conducted by Gallup, with the Coronavirus raging out of control, 80% of voters who believed that the economy is the primary issue in the election, voted for Trump.[5] These were the values that steered the GOP leadership and half of America that set the stage for a second Trump term.

To complete the job of rendering our institutions powerless, a ruthless insider like Trump was needed and, he was delivering at warp speed in his first term. What chance did a fragile ideal like democracy have in the face of superior motivation like money and greed? Then fate intervened. As if the universe had a special place in its heart for American democracy. It sent us the Coronavirus that shed light on the depravity of the GOP and exposed its grotesque and toxic underbelly. Those who bought into Trump’s narrative that the virus was a hoax, found themselves getting infected and dying. Suddenly science and facts were making their way back into the calculus and life, at least for some, became more important than money. The retirees who voted for Trump in 2016 to preserve their retirement savings were now looking for the candidate who will save their lives and found it in Joe Biden.

The taking back of the White House by the Democrats has given democracy a temporary reprieve from special interest and their relentless march to hand over the power of the people to corporations. The GOP’s state of mind today is that of disbelief and denial for being stopped from reaching that goal as they refuse to acknowledge Biden’s win more than 10 days after the election. Denial of reality is at the top of the GOP leadership, from Newt Gingrich who is the poster child of the modern-day Republican revolution and Mitch McConnell the Grim Reaper, to the House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy and the chair of the Judiciary Senate Committee Lindsay Graham. They are scrambling to put in place contingency plans to stop Biden in his tracks, but they will eventually move to the next stage in the grieving process – anger. That is their stop whenever they lost the White House. That is also the stage from which they project their anger and divisiveness on their constituents that keeps their radical and extreme positions in place.

The reversal of the damage done to our democracy under the values of corporations know best will not be an easy task, especially if the GOP holds on to the two senate seats in Georgia. This makes the January runoff in that state the most consequential election in decades. Thanks to the grassroots work that Democrat Stacey Abrams did that turned Georgia blue. Her advocacy to address voter repression also influenced voter turnout in as many as twenty other states. In spite of all that, her work remains a drop in the ocean when looking at the big picture and what needs to be done in order to pry democracy out of the grip of the GOP and special interest.

Should the democrats win the two additional seats in the senate needed for majority, the task ahead will only become easier by just a few degrees. In addition to addressing the threat of the Coronavirus, a Biden administration needs to reverse or isolation from the global community and rejoin the Paris climate accords. These are the two existential threats that lie in our global commons. But make no mistake, the threat to democracy at home will not abate as long as special interest and the party that does their bidding remain unchallenged. Just like Mitch McConnell became the grim reaper of the democratic agenda, the democrats need to become the grim reapers of the corporate agenda. We need to maintain a non-ending vigilance to keep money out of politics. Democrats must work on structural reforms that deal with campaign financing, reversing the Citizens United decision and other important issues such as term limits. Getting money out of politics will be a first step on the long road that brings us back to a democracy that is a true reflection of rule by the people. Without that hard work being done, the gruesome architecture in place will automatically favor the GOP, and will continue giving us many more Trumps. It won’t relent until democracy is tipped off the edge into the hands of oligarchs and special interest who will continue the gaslighting of half of America and try to convince the rest of us that this is democracy.

 

Notes

[1] Tonkin, A. (2005, June 29). Different Values Different Democracies. Retrieved October 14, 2020 from  http://www.humanemergencemiddleeast.org/different-values-different-democracy-alan-tonkin.php

 

[2] Maalouf, E. S. (2015, Vol.1), Functional Democracy; A New Paradigm on Geopolitics in the Middle East. Spanda Journal, Volume 1, (2015) 55-64.

 

[3] Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains, A Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (New York: Penguin Books, 2018), p 35.

 

[4] Dawlabani, S. (2019 April 17). On the Edge of Disaster; The Tail that Killed the Dog. Retrieved October 20, 2020 from  http://www.memenomics.com/2019/04/17/on-the-edge-of-disaster-the-tail-that-killed-the-dog

 

[5] Brenan, M. (2022, October 5). Economy Tops Voters’ List of Key Election Issues.  Retrieved November 11, 2020 from https://news.gallup.com/poll/321617/economy-tops-voters-list-key-election-issues.aspx

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What Can Evolution and Spiral Dynamics Tell us About the Coronavirus?

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Beyond the Economy-Stupid is the Culture-Stupid

A few days ago, I posted a graph on the Beck-Graves Facebook page from a presentation I usually make to graduate students and business leaders who’ve been trained in Spiral Dynamics. It represents a half-day worth of training in the SD-MEMEnomics methodologies that I’ve developed over the last two decades. Many questions arose from the group, and this post is an attempt to answer those questions and bring clarity to what an end-phase of a MEMEnomic Cycle means through the adoption of the Spiral Dynamics change model  to the MEMEnomics framework. 

First, and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that the graph is about the economic sector (the economic gMEMEs not the culture-wide vMEMEs at every level of the Spiral). g refers to general category memes that make up an entire vMEME. This is what Beck and Cowan called “vMEME Attractors” and, for reasons of consistency, I renamed gMEMEs in my book MEMEnomics.  

Unfortunately, the fate of our country became tied directly to our economy and we can longer separate the two. This became true from the time Clinton adviser James Carville  coined the term “It’s the economy-stupid” in 1992. It pointed to  what really matters in winning elections. Carville’s statement became  the guiding principle for every presidency since. However,  it is important to point out that the Clinton Era was part and parcel of the Only Money Matters Cycle that started with the first Reagan Administration and is now coming to an end. Clinton played a major role in deregulating banks which paved the road for all politicians to believe that a deregulated free market economy knows best which eventually led  to the 2008 financial crisis and its gruesome aftermath. Carville would have been truly memorialized in history if he were to say “It’s the fairness-of-the-economy-stupid.  Regardless of all that,  all the vMEMEs in the graph are economic sector gMEMES and only pertain to the US economy.

The rise in economic-gMEME complexity over time is indicative of  of two factors:

  1. The upward movement on the Spiral makes available more complex tools for every vMEME activated. This includes Red and unhealthy Orange. Example: Al-Qaeda (Red-Ideological Blue) using nuclear weapons or airplanes to advance their ideology, or naked traders (Red with no cash) using Orange research to short markets with positions worth Billions of Dollars).
  2. Rises in GDP, innovation and population make that complexity possible. The 3 are directly correlated, which accounts for the rise in systemic vMEME and gMEME complexity over time.

Here’s some other information pertinent to the graph:

  1. The Yellow line marks the end state of the Third MEMEnomic Cycle which we’re in. It is, unfortunately,  a Gamma Trap. The shaded Blue area labeled as Paradigm Shift points to the kind of changes that need to happen (Ad Hoc Yellow) before we reach New Alpha Fit (stable state).
  2. The bar showing the gMEMEstack is the thin-slicing of the Yellow line and is from another graph.  I couldn’t move the dates to place the bar on the same graph, resulting the discrepancy in the timeline.

Since there seems to be little distinction today between the economy and social justice, it’s fair to say: as the economy goes, so goes politics and the nation. I first called my presentations based on this research: “It’s About the vMEMEs Stupid” in an effort to shift  the conversation to the wider effects of economics on society.

Here are the details of the research behind the graph. In 2010, I hired a research firm that analyzed over 1000 end-of-year reports on the economy from publications such as Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, NYT, Barron’s, Financial Times, Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc..

The time-frame was from the late 1930′ to 2009. It was difficult to find reliable data that meets that criteria pre 1935, so we used different metrics for that part of the research that were derived from historic narratives on the economy. For the post 1935 research period, there were hundreds of Keywords and phrases that we used that were intended to pick up on the different states and stages of every economic gMEME. Keywords like deregulation, new law, white collar crime, recession, union busting, outsourcing, cases prosecuted by the SEC, law suits brought against Fortune 500 companies, creation of new financial instruments (notional value, unhealthy Orange), etc..

We also tracked legal actions brought by the Federal government against the entire economic Spiral and assigned them to every gMEME. And, as an outside measure to gauge the debauchery of the US Dollar, (unhealthy Orange) we kept track of the relationship between GDP growth and the money supply, (the bigger the gap, the weaker was Blue, and the stronger were Red and Unhealthy Orange). This inverse relationship between Blue and Red-Orange emerged from all the other data as well. As indicated in the graph, the lower Blue density was,  the more rampant and out of control were Red and (unhealthy) Orange.

From 2010 to present day, I’ve been tracking the economic gMEMEstack through my own research, and it hasn’t been that hard to do.  I had predicted that with President Obama’s election and his pick of Paul Volcker as chief economic advisor, that there will be a slow resurrection of Blue in economics, (as indicated in the Blue-shaded area). Volcker is a past Fed chairman who has been critical of the way monetary policy has been used since Raegan replaced him with Alan Greenspan. This is a man who understood the fallacy of finance being the tail that wagged the economic dog that violated the basic tenets of modern economics. All of my hopes were dashed when Volcker was promptly replaced by Larry Summers, a neoliberal economist who was Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and the poster child of the financial crisis. No meaningful reforms ever resulted from the 2008 bailout, and the economic gMEMEstack, as it stood in 2008 — addicted to an unlimited money supply, and an unjust economic system — went back to business as usual. This was a very dangerous state that, today has exhausted every possible tool left in the Third MEMEnomic Cycle and moved our country (Spiral-wide, vMEME-wide) into the “Revolt State” against the system.

While we begin to see the rise of the Green gMEME in economics post 2009 on the graph, unfortunately it’s potential has been hijacked by a toxic infrastructure of capital and a first-tier ecosystem that has been numbed by money and became immune to change. (click here to read my 2018 piece full of data that backs this up).

All this serves as a confirmation that there are only two ways to achieve change in large scale systems: Evolutionary Change or Revolutionary Change. Sadly, if you read any of my posts in the last 10 years, you know we have been on the road to the latter not the former. In the Spiral sequence of change,  systems in unstable states tend to be very vulnerable to wildcards that come from outside the system’s own awareness and when they’re least expected. By their nature, wildcards attack the weakest points in a system and cause havoc or in extreme cases, collapse.

With the Coronavirus and the social unrest from the death of George Floyd, we just got seriously shoved into the state where everything is falling apart. The Trump administration in its incompetence and narrow mindedness to destroy whatever was left of the Blue vMEME  and extend the life of a zombie system running on fumes, was the weak point where these two wildcards entered the system and  caused its acceleration towards a Gamma Trap.

Today, everything is falling apart, we’re beginning to see the Culture-wide, Spiral-wide breaking of barriers that will eventually lead to a Delta Surge. So, yes we are heading into a Spiral collapse, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a collapse caused by a toxic Orange system that had become immune to change. It is the lessons learned from this system that will inform the next system. Its ashes, and its DNA  will serve as the antidote that will inform the Blue-shaded areas on what Ad Hoc Yellow has to do to place us on the road to a New Alpha Fit.

This will take no less than a decade in order for it to become more congruent with whatever economic gMEME comes next, which will very likely resemble the emerging Green values culture-wide. There is also a likely chance that while we’re in this crucible of change and chaos, we might sew the seeds of a Yellow system that places the care for humanity and the planet above the pure pursuit of the Orange game of endless wealth and greed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Uncovering the Values of a Regenerative Future