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Are We Being Played?

From Heather Richardson, professor of History at Boston College (as posted to Facebook, and verified by Snopes):

I don’t like to talk about politics on Facebook — political history is my job, after all, and you are my friends — but there is an important non-partisan point to make today.

What Bannon is doing, most dramatically with last night’s ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries — is creating what is known as a “shock event.”

Such an event is unexpected and confusing and throws a society into chaos. People scramble to react to the event, usually along some fault line that those responsible for the event can widen by claiming that they alone know how to restore order.

When opponents speak out, the authors of the shock event call them enemies. As society reels and tempers run high, those responsible for the shock event perform a sleight of hand to achieve their real goal, a goal they know to be hugely unpopular, but from which everyone has been distracted as they fight over the initial event. There is no longer concerted opposition to the real goal; opposition divides along the partisan lines established by the shock event.

Last night’s Executive Order has all the hallmarks of a shock event. It was not reviewed by any governmental agencies or lawyers before it was released, and counterterrorism experts insist they did not ask for it. People charged with enforcing it got no instructions about how to do so. Courts immediately have declared parts of it unconstitutional, but border police in some airports are refusing to stop enforcing it.

Predictably, chaos has followed and tempers are hot.

My point today is this: unless you are the person setting it up, it is in no one’s interest to play the shock event game. It is designed explicitly to divide people who might otherwise come together so they cannot stand against something its authors think they won’t like.

I don’t know what Bannon is up to– although I have some guesses– but because I know Bannon’s ideas well, I am positive that there is not a single person whom I consider a friend on either side of the aisle– and my friends range pretty widely– who will benefit from whatever it is.

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal.

But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.

A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines. This, for example, is how Confederate leaders railroaded the initial southern states out of the Union.

If people realize they are being played, though, they can reach across old lines and reorganize to challenge the leaders who are pulling the strings. This was Lincoln’s strategy when he joined together Whigs, Democrats, Free-Soilers, anti-Nebraska voters, and nativists into the new Republican Party to stand against the Slave Power.

Five years before, such a coalition would have been unimaginable. Members of those groups agreed on very little other than that they wanted all Americans to have equal economic opportunity. Once they began to work together to promote a fair economic system, though, they found much common ground. They ended up rededicating the nation to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Confederate leaders and Lincoln both knew about the political potential of a shock event. As we are in the midst of one, it seems worth noting that Lincoln seemed to have the better idea about how to use it.



  1. Roy wrote:

    Thanks for posting this. It says a lot we should be considering to understand what’s going on

    Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  2. ebdoug wrote:

    I only read about people joining together in Western NY. What about California?

    To me President Bannon is following Hitler right down the line. hate Muslims instead of jews. White Supremacy like Hitler wanted.

    Meanwhile PINO is just that: he is campaigning for 2020 while running his businesses continuing to lie to everyone.

    Kushner and his wife are the minders of PINO and the keeper at bay of Bannon. Reason why the CO was signed 16 minutes before Sundown a week ago. Kushner couldn’t react.

    Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  3. notycoon22 wrote:

    Last week Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed legislation that would have virtually given away 3.3 million acres of Federal ground to the highest bidders. Environmental groups were immediately rustling the bushes to get folks to contact their representatives in opposition. So were outdoor/hunter/fishing groups. I don’t think it’s a secret that a lot of today’s environmental folks are pretty much against hunting and a lot of hunters kind of make fun of environmentalists (I know these are broad generalizations, but there are broad threads of truth in them). Nonetheless, both sides pulled out a lot of stops and shot a pile of emails and phone calls to Washington that sent the proposal back into the hole from which it had emerged. I’d guess that a fair number of the folks that responded to the call for action were also upset by the Drumpf immigration executive order, but they didn’t let that cover up this other gambit by the Publicans.
    Don, Yreka

    Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  4. Joan Hill wrote:

    This is what a friend more knowledgeable than I about international politics calls the “throw a
    dead cat on the kitchen table” tactic. People will be so upset and focused on the cat they won’t notice what else you are doing. He told me about that last Nov., when I was wringing my hands.

    Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 2:00 am | Permalink
  5. Ralph wrote:

    Interesting theory and I wouldn’t put it past them. But that may be giving this bunch of neophytes too much credit considering the chaos and missteps they’ve already stumbled into after just the first few weeks.

    It also begs the question, exactly what is the alternative agenda Bannon and Trump have in mind that they are trying to slip by us distracted minions? Trump ran on a Muslim ban and is trying to ram it through, as predicted. His EO trying to roll back Dodd-Frank regulations is hypocritical, given all the grief he gave Clinton on her comfy ties to Wall St., but from what I’ve read recently is not something Bannon would endorse, given his reported distrust and alienation from the financial industry he once worked in, following the crash that nearly bankrupted his father and immediate family.

    So I’m not convinced the two are fully in cahoots and coordinated enough to engineer such a devious foil to, as Joan creatively calls it, throw a dead cat on the table. After all, these guys are under a media microscope unprecedented since perhaps Watergate.

    Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

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  1. Are We Being Played? – giovannibenavides on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 8:38 am

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