A Secular Islam Possible for Malaysia?


May 11, 2017

A Secular Islam Possible for Malaysia?

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

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The recent PAS Muktamar brings to the forefront – yet again – the question of whether secular Islam is a possibility in an increasingly racially and religiously acrimonious and divided Malaysia.

Secularism has been defined as the separation of public life and civil/government matters from religious teachings and commandments, or more simply the separation of religion and politics. It is an evolution that the great majority of the world’s nations have gone through – some quickly, others more slowly.

However, almost all nations, even as they develop at uneven speeds, have inevitably gravitated towards a separation of religion and state.

Today, except for a few countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran and Yemen, most nations – developed and developing – view a religiously-based state as a throwback to a more primitive form of government; and a historical era in which life was nasty, brutish and short, except for the religious elite.

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Secular states in which governments are neutral in matters of religion and public activities, and where the states’ decisions are not dictated or influenced by religious beliefs, are the opposite of theocratic states.

At the same time it needs to be noted that not all secular states are alike. Thus we find states with a comprehensive commitment to secularism; those that are more accommodating to religion; and others that, although committed to neutrality, will selectively actively cooperate with religions.

Whatever the degree of secularity, secular states, except those which morph into totalitarianism or autocratic systems, are committed to the implementation of national and international norms protecting the freedom of religion or belief, and abide by constitutions which guarantee the equal treatment of different communities of religion and belief within society.

In sharp contrast the theocratic state has a God or a particular deity to be the supreme civil ruler. Also the God’s or particular deity’s commandments are held to be the definitive law of the land; and the authorities and their representatives who interpret the commandments claim a superior or divine duty in running the affairs of state and society.

Debates on merits ongoing, but no poll held

Debate on the relative merits of theocratic and secular states has been ongoing for several hundreds of years in both Muslim and Christian worlds. In our era, a poll of the world’s foremost leaders – including religious – on what they may view to be a superior form of government – secular or theocratic – has never been held.

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The Late Karpal Singh is right but when he was Prime  Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir had the audacity to claim that Malaysia is already an Islamic state, while his successor promoted Islam Hadhari and Najib Razak embraced Hadi Awang’s Hududism and Zakir Naik.  As a result, the Malays have become a confused people.–Din Merican

But if one were to be undertaken today, I will not be surprised if the polled group of religious leaders – despite their concerns about the negative impact that a sharp break separating public life from religion could have on their congregations – will agree that a secular state is the correct path to progress and a better life for their religious communities.

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I expect too that few among the religious leaders would want a return to the days when there was a fusion of religious and political authority, even if they may personally benefit from the shift of power in society.

For, make no mistake about it, history – past and current – is replete with examples of how theocratic states, even after co-opting or hijacking secularised concepts of equality and justice, have invariably lapsed into religious tyrannies with dire consequences for all of the citizenry.

As Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of the United States noted, “Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”

The crisis in Malaysia

Secular Malaysia today is facing a crisis with Muslim politicians from both sides of the political divide seeking to strengthen conservative Islam through castigating its moderate and liberal proponents, and by making the case that supporters of a secular Islam are kaffirs, traitors and enemies of the religion.

The situation has become so bad that few Muslims in the country are willing to take a public stand on the issue or declare support for secular Islam for fear of reprisal by religious extremists.

The sole exceptions that have stood out have been non-political figures, such as Mariam Mokhtar, Noor Farida Ariffin and some other members of G25, Syed Akbar Ali, Marina Mahathir, Haris Ibrahim, Din Merican, and Farouk Peru, and an even smaller number of politicians, notably Zaid Ibrahim and Ariff Sabri.

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One sees in their messages to fellow Muslims in this country some of the same concerns that are animating liberal and secular Muslims in other parts of the world, viz:

  • The rejection of interpretations of Islam that urge violence, social injustice and politicised Islam;
  • The rejection of bigotry and oppression against people based on prejudice arising from ethnicity, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression;
  • Support for secular governance, democracy and liberty; and
  • Support for the right of individuals to publicly express criticism of Islam (see ‘Muslim Reform Movement’ by M Zuhdi Jasser and Raheel Raza et al).

Unfortunately, these messages – partly because they are communicated in English and partly because the mainstream Malay (and English ) media have chosen to ignore them – are unable to reach the Malay masses – whether in rural or urban communities. They have even failed to elicit support from the unknown number of open-minded and liberal Muslims who are now openly branded as “deviants” by Islamic religious authorities.

In the Malay world, it is Malay politicians and the Islamic elite and bureaucracy who have a monopoly over the variant of Islam that is propagated to the masses. It is a variant that is currently feeding on heightened ethnic and religious insecurities and jealousy, so as to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to have a rational discourse on secular Islam, save that advocated by Umno and PAS.

LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.

RUU355 Circus –The Political Game Najib Razak plays


April 4, 2017

RUU355 Circus –The political game pyromaniac Najib Razak plays

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa@Morgan-Hill, California

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Does this circus clown understand what he means–He has, in fact, destroyed everything Malaysia has achieved over nearly 60 years (since 1957) in his  wake.

If I were a non-Malay, I would support RUU355 with unrestrained enthusiasm…As a Malay however, I am terrified at this crude fascistic attempt to make Islam an instrument for repression. It pains me to see my faith debased as a political and social tool to control the ummah. Greatness can never emerge from a controlled and repressed society. Islam thrives only when there is freedom and justice. Oppression promotes neither.–Dr. M. Bakri Musa

Many applaud Prime Minister Najib’s recent U-turn on RUU355, the legislative amendment to “strengthen” the Syariah. That circus, which is far from over, exposes Najib’s mischief and vulnerability. Lauding him for withdrawing the government’s sponsorship of that bill is akin to praising a pyromaniac who had tried to start a fire but failed. Najib should be condemned, not praised, for his dangerous game of stirring religious discord.

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Two Malaysian Clowns with a Mad-Cap Indian Mullah

Whenever Islam enters the discourse in Malaysia, all rational discussions evaporate. Leaders and followers, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, descent with gusto into the gutter of religious and underlying racial bigotry. I would have thought that such a realization would have cautioned leaders to be more circumspect when treading on matters religious. On the contrary, as revealed by Najib’s latest and very crude mischief, they are only too eager to fan the fire.

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With over 60 years of a corrupt and incompetent UMNO-led administration, Malaysia is littered with debris and garbage, literal as well as figurative. Any idiot with a matchstick could start a conflagration with ease. Imagine a mischievous one, if Malaysians let it be. It is time to grab the matchstick away from Najib’s reach.

RUU355 began as PAS Hadi Awang’s private member’s bill. Clueless on matters of statecraft, PAS leaders, well exemplified by Hadi, resort to simplistic and gimmicky maneuvers, as with introducing “Islamic laws” and making Malaysia an “Islamic state.”

For his part, Najib was desperate to be seen as a latter-day Malay hero championing syariah. He also sensed an opportunity to create mischief by driving a wedge in the opposition coalition; hence his over eagerness to take over the bill’s sponsorship. Later, caught and surprised by the unanticipated strong opposition from the now emboldened non-UMNO Barisan partners, specifically from Sarawak, Najib was forced to backtrack.

Clever only by half, Najib now finds himself on the unfamiliar terrain of having to make difficult choices. He opted for throwing PAS under the bus, hoping that his support among conservative Malays would not be too adversely affected. The risk of losing his crucial Sarawak partners, and with that the fall of his government, was much greater and more immediate. Earlier, Najib had hoped to endear himself to PAS followers and entice their party away from the opposition in time for the next election.

Image result for Sarawakians must remember Adenan SatemIn respectful memory of Adenan Satem and a stark reminder to his successor and Fellow Malaysians in Sarawak. Embrace Najib Razak at your own peril since he will destroy harmony with his Islamism and embrace of Zakir Naik and Hadi Awang

With Najib’s vulnerability now exposed, expect more challenges and shifts in the wind, and for him to be jerked around like a yoyo. It would be quite a sight! As for PAS, it is but the flighty woman jilted by her hitherto ardent suitor and now not welcomed by her previous partner. Not a pretty sight for a far-from-pretty old maid.

For Malaysians, the choice is simple. Deny Najib the privilege of leading Malaysia. Snatch the matchstick away from him.

If I were a non-Malay, I would support RUU355 with unrestrained enthusiasm. I would do likewise for all Islam-centric legislations, including the introduction of hudud. My assertion here is not meant to shock or raise eyebrows, nor is it a clumsy attempt at sarcasm or literary spoof, rather a matter of pragmatism if not blatant opportunism.

As a Malay, however, I am terrified at this crude fascistic attempt to make Islam an instrument for repression. It pains me to see my faith debased as a political and social tool to control the ummah. Greatness can never emerge from a controlled and repressed society. Islam thrives only when there is freedom and justice. Oppression promotes neither.

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Perlis Mufti who is a Fan of Qutbist Zakir Naik

Our ulamas and scholars have failed us here. They they have subverted what should be a political debate into a test of our faith. Oppose RUU355 and you are destined for Hell! How infantile!

There are many reasons (most are selfish and self-serving) why non-Malays should support the expansion of Islamic institutions. One benign rationale would be not to interfere with the wishes of the majority (Malays), as long as those do not impact you adversely. The constitution protects and spares non-Muslims from hudud. You could say that they do not “deserve” such divinely-derived laws!

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Malaysia’s Political Ulamas

Non-Muslims should for example, push for public executions and whippings, following Afghanistan’s example. Turn those into revenue-producing events, with “premium” front-row seats commanding hefty prices, and market them as showcasing the “beauty” and “superiority” of Islamic laws.

Sell ads to whip and sword manufacturers, much like oil companies advertise at Formula One races. Such public executions and whippings could rival major spectator events like boxing to draw foreign tourists.

It is also in the self-interest of non-Muslims to encourage Malays to be obsessed and consumed with matters religious and the pursuit of the Hereafter. With more young Malays preoccupied with studying revealed knowledge and prophetic traditions, there would be that much fewer to pursue STEM. Meaning, less competition for non-Malays wishing to become doctors, scientists and engineers.

With young Malays opting for Al Azhar and Pakistani madrasahs, there would be less competition among Malaysians aspiring for Oxford and Harvard. Not that our community is a formidable competitor on that front.

For non-Muslim politicians, embracing pro-Islam postures would be a sure way into the hearts of Malays and capturing their votes. Those politicians would become instant darlings of the Malay community, fast eclipsing the likes of that mualaf Ridhaun Tee, and without having to change your name or religion. You don’t have to suck up to UMNO or PAS politicians either! All you have to do is don white kopiah (or hijab, for a woman) at Muslim functions, and of course support RUU355 and similar legislations.

Non-Malays should be heartened that the Padang Merbok pro-RUU355 rally drew thousands; overwhelmingly Malays. It went well past midnight. Not even the early evening rain dampened the mood. They came from as far north as Perlis and Kelantan, giddy with the excitement of doing God’s work, as they had been led to believe.

Imagine the acres of paddy fields not tilled that day and the next, the thousands of rubber trees not tapped, and hundreds of fishing boats idle in port. You do not need to be an economist to see the impact; all negative. Or perhaps it was minimal as they were marginal participants in the modern Malaysian economy, consumed as they were with the Hereafter.

As one of the few non-Malays present at that rally noted, the only non-Muslims affected by RUU355 would be casino operators. Few, Muslims or non-Muslims, have sympathy for them.

I compliment that the non-Malay for his deep understanding of Malay culture and values. It is a sad commentary that individuals like him are a rarity today. Not so a few generations ago.

Following the failed Malayan Union, a coalition of populist Malay organizations under PUTERA, together with the primarily non-Malay trade union group AMCJA, put forth a proposal for self-rule.

A central feature of that proposal would have liberalized conditions for citizenship. The leftist Malay leaders in PUTERA enthusiastically embraced that simply because those new citizens would be called Melayu, not Malayans. Non-Malays, being pragmatic, too accepted that. They could not care less about the label as long as they were granted citizenship.

Malays were easily seduced into relaxing the citizenship requirements in return for the Melayu label. Never mind that those would-be culup Melayus were not Muslims and could not speak Malay or give a hoot about Malay mores and customs!

Thank God the British rejected the PUTERA/AMCJA idea and instead imposed the Federation Agreement.

To Malays, the label is all important. Do what you want with the content, in line with our culture’s premium on peragga (appearance). It was true then and it is even more true today. Label something as Islamic or hudud, and Malays would swallow it without question. Likewise, anything from the land of the Prophet is holy. Even the flies in Mecca are hallal! It is not a surprise that Najib’s receiving millions from a Saudi sheik be viewed as borkat (divine bounty) by Malays and not, as the rest of the world sees it, blatant corruption.

Two centuries ago the British nearly succeeded in destroying the Chinese civilization by giving the masses what they craved for–opium. In the process the Brits made tons of money and controlled China. The Chinese elite, from the emperor down to the mandarins, were aware of the dangers opium posed but they could not prevail against the mighty British.

With Malays on the other hand, our leaders are the biggest pushers of the metaphorical opium. Non-Malays should let that be and let Malays be narcotized. Then like the British in China of yore, non-Malays could control the economy and country even more. If Malays were to complain or be resentful, flatter them that a much bigger and better reward awaits them in the Hereafter.

That however is a distracting issue. The key conclusion from Najib’s latest U-turn on RUU355 is that he and the party he leads are now vulnerable. Najib is floundering. As any boxer will tell you, that is the best time to knock your opponent out.

The Intellectual Journal of Trumpism Is Born


March 11, 2017

The Intellectual Journal of Trumpism Is Born

by Jonah Goldberg
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Can a new magazine launched to defend Trump take ideas seriously? Our former colleague Eliana Johnson has a short profile of the guy launching American Affairs, the forthcoming intellectual journal of Trumpism, rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of the Journal of American Greatness.

A 30-year-old conservative wunderkind is out to intellectualize Trumpism, the amorphous ideology that lifted its namesake to the presidency in November. Until recently, the idea itself was an oxymoron, since Trumpism has consisted in large part of the President-elect’s ruthless evisceration of the country’s intellectual elite. But next month, Julius Krein, a 2008 Harvard graduate who has spent most of his admittedly short career in finance, is launching a journal of public policy and political philosophy with an eye toward laying the intellectual foundation for the Trump movement. If his nerdy swagger is any indication, he has big ambitions: He noted wryly that he is — “coincidentally” — the same age that William F. Buckley Jr. was six decades ago when he founded National Review, the magazine that became the flagship of the conservative movement. No offense to Krein, but he should keep the comparisons to Bill Buckley to a minimum. No one wins from such comparisons (except Buckley), and raising expectations you can’t meet strikes me as a bad idea. But other than that, I’m glad someone is doing this.

The conservative movement needs more idea-development, not less. I agree with Yuval Levin, who tells Johnson, “Not nearly enough of that is happening around the changes we’ve seen in this election.” Also, a thing like “Trumpism” deserves an intellectual effort to define it in non-pejorative terms. That said, I’m skeptical of some of Krein’s larger ambitions. Johnson reports that American Affairs will “launch in both a print and digital version, and a substantial portion of the funding will come from Krein himself. He said donors to traditional conservative institutions have been ’surprisingly’ receptive to his pitch, though he declined to name the additional contributors.” How receptive could the donors be if the editor is largely self-funding?

But that’s nitpicking. Krein also said, “We hope not only to encourage a rethinking of the theoretical foundations of ‘conservatism’ but also to promote a broader realignment of American politics.” That’s a pretty tall order for a hedge-fund guy in his spare time. It’s even harder when Donald Trump is your lodestar. I’m quoted in the piece: “It will take a good deal of time for even Trump’s most gifted apologists to craft an intellectually or ideologically coherent theme or narrative to his program,” said Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review.

“Trump boasts that he wants to be unpredictable and insists that he will make all decisions on a case-by-case basis. That’s a hard approach for an intellectual journal to defend in every particular.” My point there is you beat ideas with ideas. You can challenge the “theoretical foundations of ‘conservatism’” (perhaps starting with an explanation for why you put it in scare quotes) or you can defend a theoretical program. Unless you’re just going to defend Pragmatism and/or the instinctual, infallible, wisdom of Donald Trump in all cases, you’ll either need your own theory of the case or you’ll need to allow for writers willing to criticize Trump outright.

There’s nothing wrong with that, except American Affairs is being launched to defend Trump and Trumpism. If Krein isn’t willing to tolerate serious criticism of Trump in furtherance of Trumpism, then he should skip the journal and go work directly for Sean Spicer. If he does allow criticism, (a) good for him and (b) he should be prepared for his pro-Trump journal to be denounced by Trump himself. While I am perfectly comfortable saying that Krein is no William F. Buckley — because no one is — I would note that great magazines and journals are often born out of such chaos and internal contradictions.

Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell founded The Public Interest (which was more of an inspiration for neoconservatives than was The National Interest, contrary to what Eliana wrote). But they had some pretty profound disagreements, causing Bell to walk away early on. Irving Kristol solved these, and similar, problems by making the PI a magazine for writers, not editors.

At National Review we had an even more stormy beginning, with libertarians, Machiavellians, Ultramontane Catholics, Straussian philosophers, social conservatives of every flavor, and a wide variety of ex-Communists squabbling and debating everything under the sun. The creative tension was invaluable in forming the foundation of modern conservatism. Bill Buckley made it work through sheer force of personality. We didn’t have a fan in the Oval Office until Ronald Reagan. Great magazines and journals are often born out of chaos and internal contradictions.

The New Republic (now a pale shadow of its former self) was always at its best when it was at war with itself. I grew up on it in the 1980s, when many of the editors hated one another’s guts and fought over Reagan, the Contras, etc. The magazine’s early years were even more chaotic. The New Republic was founded, according to Walter Lippmann (a one-time New Republic staffer as well as an aide to Woodrow Wilson), “to explore and develop and apply the ideas which had been advertised by Theodore Roosevelt when he was the leader of the Progressive party.”

Pretty much TR was to The New Republic as Trump is to American Affairs. But when Wilson was elected, and started leading us to war, The New Republic was all over the map because of disagreements among the editors. Eventually, their old ideological hero Teddy Roosevelt charged into the offices of The New Republic like a Bull Moose to chew them out for their disloyalty. Realizing he couldn’t set them straight, TR shouted that the magazine was “a negligible sheet, run by two anemic Gentiles and two uncircumcised Jews.” If Trump tweets something like that at Krein & Co., he’ll know he’s on his way to “greatness.”

— Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review.

NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW: Click Image

 

A blinkered Fiscal Vision-There is no such thing as a free lunch, Mr. Trump


Match 7, 2017

Donald Trump may have veered from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflicted crisis over the course of his young presidency, but he has kept one policy goal steadily before him: tax cuts for the wealthy. A case in point is his recent proposal to find $54 billion more for military spending by slashing Head Start, food aid for low-income pregnant women, environmental protection and other programs. Those trade-offs are bad enough in themselves. But they also reveal a ruinous worldview in which nondefense spending is always excessive and tax cuts are necessary for growth. This sort of thinking will only weaken the economy and betray the people who put their hopes in Mr. Trump.

Spending on the nonmilitary discretionary programs that have been targeted by Mr. Trump comes to 3.2 percent of the economy — well below the average of 3.8 percent going back to 1962. By calling for cuts that would average about 15 percent in almost every category other than defense and “mandatory” programs like Social Security and Medicare, Mr. Trump would undermine his promises to make sure “every child in America has access to a good education,” to help the “poorest and most vulnerable” and to rebuild infrastructure. Other categories at risk of being cut include scientific and medical research, job training, national parks, air traffic control and maintenance of dams.

Worse yet, some Republicans may call for limiting Mr. Trump’s proposed reductions by cutting instead from Social Security and Medicare, which Mr. Trump has pledged to protect. That would be needlessly tightfisted. A rich nation with a resilient economy can afford to care for both the poor and the elderly. Besides, support for the elderly is already becoming stingier as a result of changes instituted years ago, including an increase in the Social Security retirement age from 65 in 2002 to 67 by 2027.

That is not to imply that all spending cuts are off limits. But it’s sensible to mix them with tax increases. The approach of Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans would deeply cut taxes even as spending is slashed.

Mr. Trump has essentially called for three tax cuts: a personal income tax cut, a corporate income tax cut and a cut achieved by repealing the Affordable Care Act. Specifics are scant, but one thing is clear: All three would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans. A campaign draft of the income tax plan indicated that at least half of the proposed multitrillion-dollar tax cut would flow to the top 1 percent of earners in 2025, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Repealing the A.C.A. would end the additional 0.9 percent Medicare Hospital Tax on incomes above $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples).

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Donald Trump is a bold conservative. But he’s not just a conservative on fiscal issues… He is a foreign policy conservative, too! That’s why  on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Donald Trump explained his plan to do what President Barack Obama is unable to do: Destroy the Islamic State (ISIS). But make sure that these mentally deranged Islamic fanatics don’t screw  you first like they did to George W. Bush on September 9, 2011

Mr. Trump and Republican lawmakers say tax cuts spread prosperity by generating economic growth and thus increasing federal revenue — a thoroughly debunked claim. Experience shows that large tax cuts either deepen the nation’s debt or necessitate spending cuts. Forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office indicate that if tax revenue is not increased in the coming decade, spending cuts of $3 trillion — or about 25 percent outside of Social Security and Medicare — will be required to keep the debt at its current level of 77.5 percent of the economy. Clearly, if defense spending rises in the coming decade, as Mr. Trump has called for, while tax revenue declines, either the debt will rise or spending cuts will need to be even deeper.

Both outcomes can be avoided by abandoning deep tax cuts. It would be wise to take on new debt for stimulus during economic downturns or for infrastructure investments, but not to finance tax cuts during a military buildup. Economic activity could be encouraged by bolstering wages, including federal overtime protections. Tax revenue could be raised in constructive ways, including a carbon tax.

Giving the wealthy never-ending tax cuts while gutting programs for the middle class would create more of the resentment and inequality Mr. Trump has promised to address.

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

Image result for fareed zakaria with Henry Kissinger

Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.