President Trump: Poster Boy for Rankism

trumpRankism is the degradation of those with less power or lower rank. It’s somebodies using the power of their rank to humiliate or disadvantage those they see as nobodies. Rankism is no more defensible than racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. In fact, rankism—putting people down and keeping them there—is the mother of all the ignoble isms.
Eradicating rankism doesn’t require eliminating rank any more than overcoming racism means getting rid of race or delegitimizing sexism means eliminating gender. Rank can be a useful organizational tool that, used respectfully, helps facilitate cooperation.
The abuse of rank, however, is invariably an affront to human dignity. Rankism stifles initiative, taxes productivity, harms health, and stokes revenge. By giving rankism a face—his own scowling, mocking face—President Trump has unmasked it.
Once you have a name for it, you realize that rankism is everywhere in plain sight. Bullying, belittling, derision, corruption, harassment, and self-aggrandizement—these are all manifestations of rankism. The sooner we pin a generic name on them, the sooner we’ll be able to show them all the door.
The protests following the inauguration of President Trump were about more than the dignity of women. They were about dignity for everyone. Someday, the Women’s March on Washington may be regarded as marking the birth of a Dignity Movement.
Successful movements require two things: they must know what they’re for and what they’re against. A Dignity Movement is for dignity and it’s against rankism.
Thank you, Mr. President, for serving as poster boy for rankism and for jump-starting a Dignity Movement.

President Obama’s Politics of Dignity

America is broken. Even if we pull through the current economic crisis, recovery won’t last absent an overhaul of our primary institutions.

• One out of ten Americans is now unemployed and the recovery is expected to be jobless.
• Fifty million Americans have no heath insurance; two million, no home.
• Two million Americans are in jail.
• Our public schools have fallen behind those of most developed nations.
• Higher education is priced out of reach of the middle class.
• Our infrastructure is in an advanced state of disrepair.
• We rank first in greenhouse gas emissions.
• Immigration, once our pride, is now our shame.
• We’re living on credit and leaving the debt to our children.

The crisis is compounded by corruption of the democratic process. Politicians who owe their seats to private and corporate money are not easily persuaded to put the public interest over the special interests of their benefactors.

If our predicament were one in which there was an emergent consensus about the proper remedy, President Obama might be able to orchestrate an epochal makeover–as President Johnson did in the civil rights crisis. Most Americans knew then that African-Americans were victims of racism and that segregation was wrong. But today, reformers are themselves divided and many of the issues are of such complexity as to defy broad public comprehension.

Despite his formidable rhetorical gifts, President Obama has yet to tell us how to repair our broken institutions. But he may be doing something even better. He may be showing us the way. America’s problems run deep, and solutions will have to be grounded in a new politics–the politics of dignity.

President Obama is a herald of the politics of dignity. He’s an instinctive dignitarian. Not libertarian, not egalitarian. Dignitarian. It matters not when and how he acquired his dignitarian manner, or that he may not conform to it one hundred percent of the time. What matters is that in his personal relations and political positions he sets an example of respecting human dignity, regardless of role or rank.

It was Obama’s inclusiveness that first brought him to national attention. As the keynote speaker of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, then Illinois State Senator Obama struck a dignitarian note. In asking us to see ourselves not as citizens of red states or blue states, but rather as citizens of the United States, Obama gave us a preview of a new politics of dignity that can extricate us from our current crises. The dignitarian politics that seems to come naturally to President Obama represents not a compromise, but a synthesis of libertarian and egalitarian politics, and in doing so provides an analysis that reconciles conservatism and liberalism.

Dignity for whom? you ask. Dignity for all. For blacks and whites, for men and women, for gays and straights, for young and old, for rich and poor, for immigrants and the native-born, for conservatives and progressives. Obama is also trying to engage friend and foe alike in a global dignitarian dialogue. Dignity for all.

What is the politics of dignity that President Obama exemplifies? It goes far beyond good manners, respect, and civility, though it includes these. Dignity is achieved by methodically eliminating indignities–interpersonal, institutional, societal, and international.

The American people know that indignities their nation has inflicted on the world have diminished America’s stature. And, they know that the daily humiliations that they and their fellow citizens are enduring are incompatible with lives of dignity and signify institutional failure.

How could Obama’s presidency address the indignities that manifest as unemployment, corporate corruption, failed schools, no health insurance, foreclosure, homelessness, recidivism, and the subversion of our democracy by moneyed special interests?

To combat indignity, we need to be clear about its cause. The cause of indignity is not power, nor is it power differences. It is rather the abuse of power. To oppose indignity, we do not have to eliminate differences in power, nor the differences in rank that merely reflect them. Persons of high rank who treat their subordinates with dignity are admired, if not loved.

Rank, in itself, is not the culprit. The problem is rank abuse, and it has grown to epidemic proportions. Abuses of rank have no place in a dignitarian world. Taking a page from the women’s movement, if we are to combat rank abuse effectively, we must give it a distinctive name, preferably one that puts perpetrators on the defensive. By analogy with racism, sexism, and ageism, abuse of the power inherent in rank is rankism. Once you have a name for it, you see it everywhere.

The outrage over bonuses for failed Wall Street executives is indignation over rankism. The power of lobbyists to override the democratic will of the people is rankism. The deregulation of the financial industry, which made a virtue of self-aggrandizement and facilitated predatory loans and Ponzi schemes, led to the financial ruin of millions and created the worst recession in four score years.

As racism denigrated and disadvantaged blacks, and sexism disenfranchised and restricted women, so rankism marginalizes and exploits the working poor, keeping them in their place while their low pay effectively subsidizes everyone else. As class membranes become less permeable, resignation, cynicism, and indignation mount.

An America in which the American Dream has become a mirage is not an America worthy of the name. The achievability of that dream is what made this country the envy of the world and made us, its citizens, proud. Making that dream good again is a challenge comparable to overcoming the second-class citizenship that has limited blacks, women, gays, and others. Building a dignitarian society is democracy’s next evolutionary step.

A dignitarian society will naturally conduct itself differently on the world stage. Nowhere is rankism more dangerous than in foreign relations. International terrorism has multiple, complex causes, but one factor over which we do have a say is rankism between nations. There is no fury like that borne of chronic humiliation. President Obama’s demeanor suggests that he understands that a vital part of a strong defense is not giving offense in the first place. His speeches abroad have begun to restore good will toward the United States, and while good will alone does not constitute a national defense, it surely beats the ill- will that we have garnered in recent years.

President Johnson, following his personal instincts, led his fellow countrymen through an about-face on segregation. Much as overcoming a legacy of racism is the work of several generations, so too is the task of building a dignitarian society. President Obama knows that solutions won’t arise out of politics as usual. His personification of dignitarian politics resonates not only with Americans but around the world. The next step is to turn from exemplifying the politics of dignity to enunciating its policy implications and molding them into a legislative agenda for a dignitarian America.

Obama a Herald of Dignitarian Politics

President Obama heralds a new politics of dignity. Dignitarian politics transcends traditional libertarian and egalitarian politics to embrace equal dignity for all. Programmatically, the politics of dignity means (1) overcoming rankism in all its guises; (2) taking the damage done by malrecognition as seriously as we take the ravages of malnutrition; (3) seeing rankism as uncool; and (4) regarding malrecogniton as reversible and avoidable.

Dignitarian Politics Heralds a New Era

The politics of dignity means putting behind us—like the toys of our youth—the predatory strategy that has taken Homo sapiens this far, but can take us no further. Domestically, the shift from predation to protection means taking care that no one is marginalized or exploited. It means abandoning policies that hold people down so their labor will subsidize the rest of us. Taken to the international level, a dignitarian strategy is tantamount to a world without war.

Practicing equal dignity for all, regardless of role or rank, will mark a turning point in human history. The twenty-first century will be seen as the transitional century during which humankind completed the shift from predatory to protective behavior. No blame, no guilt over the past. Predation has simply stopped working as well as it used to. It’s a recipe for perpetual unrest, terrorism, poverty, and war, whereas equal protection brings peace, productivity, and prosperity.

The only thing as important as how we treat the planet is how we treat each other. Dignity is what people want. As we learn to give it to each other consistently, many of the man-made problems that plagued us throughout the twentieth-century, and threaten us still, will become tractable and finally recede into the mists of history.

Dignity – A Unifying Value for American Politics

Both political parties know that a unifying core value expressed in a pithy slogan translates into votes. FDR’s Democrats had “The New Deal”; LBJ’s party advanced “The Great Society.” Republicans rally to “lower taxes,” “smaller government,” “strong defense,” and “family values.”

What core value, what slogan, could move us beyond the toxic standoff that paralyzes American politics today?

The answer lies in a single word – Dignity.

This core value takes wings on the inclusive slogan: “Dignity For All.” The bumper sticker reads “Dignity4All,” and it will soon begin appearing on cars across America.

The idea of a universal right to dignity may at first seem too simple to pull together the disparate elements of this divided nation, but it’s not. Dignity is what people want, on the left, on the right, and most importantly, in the vast, non-ideological middle.

Dignity is not negotiable. People will stand up for their dignity, and once they’re on their feet, it’s usually not long before they’re marching for justice.

Two hundred years of bloody world history have shown that there is no direct path from Liberty to Justice. But if we interpose a steppingstone, we can build a bridge to justice. The name of that stone is not “Equality,” it’s “Dignity.” By establishing the right to dignity, and then enacting legislation that protects everyone’s dignity equally, we can give concrete meaning to Thomas Jefferson’s evocative claim that “All men are created equal.”

A “dignitarian society” pulls together what’s best from the three broad strands of civic culture dominating politics since the French Revolution – Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The polarizing stranglehold these ideals exert on the contemporary imagination, when any one is prioritized over the others, is a major source of the incivility that infects our politics today.

Conservatives see themselves as Liberty’s defenders; progressives pride themselves as the champions of equality. Both parties promise Fraternity, but neither delivers it.

Dignity is more encompassing than Liberty, Equality, or Fraternity. It’s the missing link that when restored will yield an electoral mandate to make good on America’s founding promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

The politics of dignity puts the “We” back in “We the People.” It spans the conservative-liberal divide. It closes the ideological fissures that separate libertarian, egalitarian, and fraternitarian ideologies and breaks the stalemate that has stalled the advance of justice since the 1960s.

A dignitarian society does not tolerate indignity – towards anyone. When this principle is translated into policy, it rules out acceptance of a permanent underclass. It disallows prejudice and discrimination toward all the groups that have rallied around the various flags of identity politics. It transforms the stalemate over abortion and gay marriage into a civil discussion of whose rights to dignity are being abridged. It proclaims everyone’s right to a sustainable environment.

Like liberty and justice, dignity is most easily defined in the negative. As a precursor to banishment or enslavement, we’re all attuned to pick up on the slightest hint of indignity.

What causes people to experience indignity? The precise and universal cause of indignity is the abuse of power. Make a list of the most distressing issues of recent years: corporate corruption, the Katrina catastrophe, sexual abuse by clergy, Abu Ghraib, domestic spying, etc. Every one of them can be traced to an abuse of power by individuals of high rank. Often the abuses had the blessing of people of even higher rank.

To effectively oppose the full range of abuses of power vested in rank, we need a word that identifies them collectively. Abuse and discrimination based on color and gender are called “racism” and “sexism,” respectively. By analogy, abuse and discrimination based on the power inherent in rank is “rankism.” This coinage provides a vitalizing link between the methods of identity politics and the moral values of democratic governance. Having a generic name for abuses of power makes them much easier to target, and targeting them is precisely what’s called for if democracy is to resume its evolution.

However principled the cause, no party can present itself as a champion of dignity so long as its members reserve the right to indulge in rankism. This includes treating political opponents with indignity. Humiliation and condescension – toward domestic opponents or foreign enemies – are inherently rankist postures, and as such they have no place in a dignitarian politics.

How would a society that makes dignity its linchpin differ from ones shaped by ideologies that accentuate liberty, equality, or fraternity? The difference is one of nuance, not opposition, for a dignitarian society combines the strengths of all three traditions.

A dignitarian society promotes individual freedom, while at the same time tempering the uninhibited free market with institutions of social responsibility that insure that economic power does not confer unwarranted educational or political advantages. For example, you shouldn’t have to be rich to attend good schools, or command a fortune to stand for office.

A dignitarian society provides genuine equality of opportunity. In a dignitarian society, loss of social mobility, let alone division into master and servant classes, is unacceptable. There’s a way out of poverty in a dignitarian society. Everyone earns a living wage and has access to quality health care.

The politics of dignity sees democracy as a work in progress. Democracy’s next step—one that will enlarge liberty, deliver justice, and foster fraternity—is to overcome rankism and build a dignitarian society.

Dignity is an idea whose time has come. The party that takes dignity as its core value can mobilize the energy not merely to win at the polls, but to win with a mandate to fulfill our nation’s implicit promise of “Dignity For All.”

*This article was a featured column on Huffington Post on June 15, 2006.

More on YearlyKos from Robert Fuller

Robert Fuller is back in Berkeley, bearing pictures from YearlyKos. Here’s a summary of his thoughts on the gathering:

YearlyKos was not exactly a passing of the torch from traditional to Internet journalists-there remains a need for books, newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV-but it was certainly the acknowledgement by the former of the latter as co-equal members of the indispensable Fourth Estate. If a democracy needs a free and vigilant press to hold government accountable, then the traditional media that historically played that role need the new Internet journalists to hold it accountable. The Romans used to ask “Who guards the guardians?” The analogous questions for media are “Who watches the watchers?”, “Who chronicles the chroniclers?”

The emergent Blogosphere provides an answer. A swarm of bloggers can force the media to live up to the standards of integrity taught in journalism schools or depicted in movies like Good Night and Good Luck. At YearlyKos, 1000 bloggers assembled for the first time and a few famous traditional journalists wrote about the phenomenon with a mixture of condescension and respect. It’s hard to imagine democracy making the evolutionary step to a dignitarian society,
without this new breed of watchdogs that has found a home in the Blogosphere.

While at YearlyKos, Fuller hung out with the Link TV crew as they video-blogged the event.

A Dignitarian Manifesto

This post is a follow up to a conversation initiated by Doc Searls.

When it comes to politics, new language and new thinking are different things. Whatever new language progressives used in 2004 failed to change the electoral outcome, and at most it’ll help them eke out a few victories in the coming years. New language is like changing the window treatment, not the window, not the view, not the perspective.

What’s required for social change, and it could come from either party, is the kind of political realignment we get once every 50 years. Such realignment pulls a sizeable majority from the vast non-ideological, sensible middle of the political spectrum, and creates a real mandate for fundamental social change. Like those that FDR and LBJ presided over. Like the universal health care and campaign finance reform that we need now.

America may well be approaching another such tipping point. To actually tip, we need a core unifying idea to rally around, and equally we need a name for the situation we’ll no longer put up with. For the unifying idea I suggest the slogan “Dignity For All.” (The bumper sticker goes ‘Dignity4All’ and they’re being created by a woman in Kansas.) The constellation of behaviors and practices “up with which we will not put” all fall under the heading of rankism.

Rankism is defined as abuse of the power inherent in rank. It’s the culprit. It’s the cause of indignity. It’s the source of the most vexing political problems troubling Americans, from Katrina to Abu Ghraib to corporate corruption to bought politicians and elections. But most disturbingly, it is the cause of the emergence of an entrenched class locked in permanent poverty. America without the American Dream is not America … and the Dream is fast becoming a mirage. This trend must be reversed, and it’s going to take once-a-generation political realignment to do it.

The goal then is to build a dignity movement that provides grassroots support for democracy to make its next evolutionary step. In the sixties the step we needed was to overcome racism; in the seventies we trained our sights on sexism; now the challenge is to target rankism—in all its guises. And they are many: bully bosses, sexually abusive clerics, professors who “borrow” research results from graduate students or exploit them as assistants, politicians who threaten privacy and liberty, condescending doctors, arrogant bureaucrats, coaches who humiliate players. Wherever there is a hierarchy, it’s susceptible to abuse by power-holders of high rank.

But neither rank nor hierarchy are inherently, necessarily abusive. Actually, we admire, even love, people who earn high rank and handle it with grace and respect for those they outrank. What we cannot abide, what causes indignity, is abuse of rank. In a word, rankism. And we do need a word. It wasn’t until the women’s movement had the word “sexism” at its disposal that it made the gains it’s now known for: equal pay for equal work; the right to choose; Title IX, etc.

To bring about social change, it’s not enough to know what you’re for; you also have to know what you’re against. The dignity movement is for a dignitarian (not an egalitarian) society and it is against rankism.

That’s it in a nutshell. Like any far-reaching analysis of social justice, the full story is a longer, more complex one. This web site is a primer on the dignity movement. There’s a 1 minute video for those in a hurry. The full treatment (interpersonal and institutional rankism and how to confront them) can be found in my book All Rise.

The goal is to make rankism as defendable as racism has become, which is to say, not very. It didn’t used to affect your career advancement to be identified as racist or sexist, but now it stops you in your tracks. As the dignity movement gains momentum, it will be equally disadvantageous to be known as rankist. If you’re interested in joining the movement to help us bring that day closer, please let us know.

Dignity – A Core Unifying Value for American Politics

Democrats acknowledge the need to clarify their core values. Crashing the Gate by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulistas Zuniga calls for a conceptual breakthrough, but the grassroots/netroots process it describes falls short of providing the unifying idea that Democrats seek.

What basic, compelling idea can do for Democrats today what “The New Deal” did for FDR; what “The Great Society” did for LBJ? Can progressives create a slogan to match the conservatives: “lower taxes”, “less government”, “strong defense”, “family values”?

They can do so with a word. That word is “Dignity.”

From that word comes a unifying slogan: “Dignity For All.”

The idea of a universal right to dignity seems too simple to pull together the disparate elements of this divided nation, but it’s not. Dignity is what people want, on the left, on the right, and most importantly, in the vast, non-ideological middle.

Dignity is not negotiable. People will stand up for their dignity and once they’re on their feet, they’ll insist on justice.

Two hundred years of blood-soaked history have shown that there is no direct path from Liberty to Justice. But if we interpose a steppingstone, we can build a bridge to justice. The name of that stone is “Dignity.” By establishing the right to dignity, and then enacting legislation that protects everyone’s dignity on equal terms, we can deliver on this country’s founding promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

A dignitarian society pulls what’s best from the three broad strands of civic culture that have dominated politics since the French Revolution—Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The stranglehold that these ideals exert on the contemporary imagination is a major source of the incivility that infects our politics today.

Conservatives see themselves as Liberty’s defenders; progressives pride themselves as the champions of Equality. Both parties promise Fraternity, but neither delivers.

Dignity is more encompassing than Liberty, Equality, or Fraternity. It’s the missing link that restored will yield an electoral mandate that heralds an historic extension of “liberty and justice for all.”

The politics of dignity puts the “We” back in “We the People.” It spans the conservative-liberal divide. It closes the ideological fissures that separate libertarian, egalitarian, and communitarian philosophies, breaking the stalemate that has stalled the advance of justice since the 1960s.

A dignitarian society does not tolerate indignity—towards anyone. When this principle is translated into policy, it rules out acceptance of a permanent underclass. It disallows prejudice and discrimination toward all the groups that have rallied around the various flags of identity politics. It makes a woman’s right to choose and gays’ right to marry self-evident. It proclaims everyone’s right to a sustainable environment.

The disparate interest groups that make up the Democratic Party will not be able to unite until they have identified their common foe. That foe is not conservatives or conservatism. It is indignity.

What is the source of indignity? The precise and universal cause of indignity is the abuse of power. Make a list of the most distressing issues of recent years: corporate corruption, the Katrina catastrophe, sexual abuse by clergy, Abu Ghraib, domestic spying, persistent poverty, etc. Every one of them can be traced to an abuse of power by individuals entrusted with high rank.

However principled their cause, progressives can’t present themselves as the party of dignity so long as they reserve the right to treat their opposite numbers with indignity. Treating political opponents in a condescending manner is counterproductive and self-sabotaging. A great many of those who’ve been voting Republican feel that political elites, intellectuals, liberals, and the media look down on them. It’s a charge that sticks because there’s truth in it.

Crashing the Gate notes that progressive interest groups can and do pay employees less than conservative groups because they compensate with a moral premium. But when the coin of the progressive realm is moral superiority, the result is disdain for the very people progressives seek to represent, and this undercuts their message.

How would a society that prioritizes dignity differ from ones shaped by ideologies that accentuate liberty, equality, or fraternity? The difference is one of nuance, not opposition, for a dignitarian society combines the strengths of all three traditions.

A dignitarian society promotes individual freedom, but it tempers the uninhibited free market with institutions of social responsibility that insure that economic power does not confer unwarranted educational or political advantages. For example, you shouldn’t have to be rich to attend good schools, or command a fortune to stand for office.

A dignitarian society provides real equality of opportunity. In a dignitarian society, loss of social mobility, let alone division into master and servant classes, is unacceptable. There’s a way out of poverty in a dignitarian society. Everyone earns a living wage and has access to quality health care.

The politics of dignity sees democracy as a work in progress. Democracy’s next step – one that will enlarge liberty, deliver justice, and foster fraternity – is building a dignitarian society.

Dignity is an idea whose time has come. Under its flag, we can mobilize the energy not merely to win at the polls, but to win with a mandate to fulfill our nation’s promise – “Dignity For All.”

Milblogs and Military PR

My friend Jon Garfunkel is doing some research on milblogs. Naively thinking that milblogs were about the authentic voice of soldiers, I thought it would be edifying to check a few out. To my horror and outrage (or was it “shock and awe” – President Bush’s favorite weapon against the citizens of his own country…?), the first thing I found was that milblogs were being brought under the arm of the vast U.S. military PR campaign. Taking a page out of the Wal-Mart book, U.S. Central Command has been cultivating bloggers as part of a viral marketing strategy to drive traffic to CENTCOM’s own web site. It’s certainly a lot easier to push a message if all the buzzy-bees come to you! And if that doesn’t work, the military has a project to create the illusion of American support to fall back on.