Faith, Fantasy, and Fallacy: Russ Sloan’s Triad of Ignorance

This website has often asked why the Leesburg Daily Commercial continues to provide Russ Sloan with a forum for his plutocratic propaganda. Sunday’s edition provided a partial explanation: there’s a market for this kind of dross. The Letter of the Week is yet another attempt by a Bible-bashing historical revisionist to portray the founding of the United States as a theocratic masterpiece. In this radical rewrite, which we have seen many times before in the Daily Commercial and will no doubt see many more times to come, Madison’s political engineering becomes a divinely-inspired attempt to impose the will of God (the right God, of course!) on a nation of sinners. The fact that Madison, as a deist, did not believe in divine revelation or in divine intervention in the affairs of man, matters not one whit to these self-appointed keepers of the national faith. As any good pastor knows, selective reading is a powerful tool in the manipulation of unquestioning minds, but when that practice spills over into the civic arena – as opposed to being confined to the church walls, where it belongs – then We the People have a right to object. Sadly, Russ Sloan is no enemy of selective history, and Sunday’s installment of The Bottom Line featured a similarly awful fusion of religious mythology with jingoism, appealing directly to the same mentality expressed on the letters page.

Of course, Russ Sloan’s agenda is slightly different from that of the theocrats. While he will happily exploit their intellectual vulnerabilities – by which I mean their predilection to believe in fantastic accounts of a highly apocryphal nature – his destination, as always, is the economic nirvana of unfettered capitalism. Parting of the Red SeaThus, Sunday’s emission begins with a lengthy account of the Exodus, replete with amazing events that thinking adults could be forgiven for doubting. Sloan opines that we should all learn from such miracles as the Nile turning to blood, the convenient parting of the Red Sea, and the alleged ability of lamb’s blood smeared on a door post to ward off the plague. The propensity of the Israelites to lack faith in Moses and God is, in an exercise of wholly unintentional but utterly hilarious absurdity, extended into an explanation for the “failure” of latter-day Americans to trust in the miracle of capitalism, which has supposedly delivered us from evil like a divine protector. Leaving aside the ludicrous (and, to some, blasphemous) equation of capitalism with God, the salient point here is that only blind faith could persuade anyone to swallow Russ Sloan’s sermon without gagging. And the more troubling corollary is that there is no reasoning with true believers.

Having effectively lambasted his readers for even daring to question the miracle of “free enterprise” (which sounds so much better than “capitalism,” doesn’t it?), Sloan concludes with a classically disingenuous appeal – so beloved of the modern G.O.P. – to patriotism. Now back on earth, the errors become mere fallacies instead of outright fantasies, and we are free to pick them apart without being accused of heresy (though we may, unfortunately, be derided as anti-American). We start with our old friend, American exceptionalism, that seemingly innocuous stalking horse behind which lurks all manner of plutocratic deceptions. Sloan confidently asserts that:

Citizens of the United States have with their own eyes witnessed the greatest political miracle in the history of mankind. We have been blessed beyond all other nations on Earth because of our constitutional republic, free enterprise, and our religious foundation. For most of history we have respected our Constitution, maintained our belief in a supreme being, and have prospered because of free enterprise.

Mitt Romney couldn’t have said it better (and I mean that literally because he has to be careful not to remind evangelical Christians that he is a member of a cult). As a matter of historical accuracy, for those who actually care about such things, let’s consider some other candidates for the greatest political miracle of all time. The Greek demos? The Roman Empire? The French Revolution? (Mais non!) The Magna Carta of 1215, the English Civil War, or the Glorious Revolution of 1688? The founding of the United Nations or of the European Union? The remarkably successful (and prosperous) Swiss confederation? The collapse of the Berlin Wall? Nah! The founding of the United States – which was very nearly undone in the 1860’s – apparently has them all beat. I don’t mean to denigrate the framers in any way; indeed, readers of this website know that I refer to Madison and Jefferson often. But let’s demonstrate a little bit of humility and acknowledge that we aren’t the only sentient beings on the planet who have managed to organize themselves into successful societies.

Similarly, the assertion that the United States is uniquely prosperous is bogus, as we have discussed in detail elsewhere. Several other countries enjoy higher standards of living, and some of them have mixed economies in which free enterprise is highly regulated by both legal and social consensus. Of equal importance, it is far from self-evident that the prosperity we do enjoy has been the sole result of capitalism. It was not unfettered free enterprise that pulled the economy out of the Great Depression, won World War II, built the interstate highway system (which, without a trace of irony or self-awareness, Russ Sloan praised a few months ago), put a man on the moon, or provides Social Security and Medicare for Republican-voting retirees in the Villages. (Note that Mitt Romney’s stump speech railed against government control of health care and then proceeded, without missing a beat or raising an eyebrow, to promise to protect the aforementioned examples of socialized medicine. Does anyone in Florida know what cognitive dissonance means?)

While Russ Sloan ignores the vital role of public spending in the economy, he also neglects to mention the damage that has been caused by “free enterprise” run amok. His dishonesty about the depravity of Wall Street is not the full extent of his blind spot. We will find no mention in The Bottom Line of the greed and incompetence of BP in the Gulf of Mexico; of the accounting shenanigans of Enron or the costs they inflicted on Californian energy consumers; of the corporate CEOs who “earn” hundreds of times more than their workers; of the industrialized slaughter of animals – and the exploitation of immigrant labor – in factory farming; or of the slave labor conditions in the Chinese sweatshops that fill the shelves of Wal-Mart. No, for Russ Sloan, it’s all good. But any serious student of economics knows that free enterprise is not all good. The problems of free markets include market failure (What? Markets can fail?); the tragedy of the commons; negative externalities; monopoly; and oligopoly. All of these issues require governmental supervision to protect the public interest – that is, for those who are interested in protecting the public interest.

It is unfortunate that, in presenting free enterprise as the best organizing principle for an economy, Russ Sloan butchers a quote from Churchill regarding the superiority of democracy to other forms of government. For Sloan’s edification, the exact quote – which is preferable when writing above the grade-school level – is: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” This was said in 1947, after Churchill had been booted out by a war-weary nation. While most comments on that quote focus on Churchill’s level of bitterness at the time, the more interesting point here is that Churchill was hardly a great exponent of democracy. It is not inaccurate to say that Britain under Churchill more closely resembled a dictatorship than Germany under Hitler. But such subtleties – and their implications for Sloan’s analogy – are way over Russ Sloan’s head.

In addition to the false equation of capitalism with godliness, Sloan predictably indulges in the so-called conservatives’ other favorite trope of claiming fealty to the Constitution, our civic Bible. The assertion that we have respected our Constitution “for most of our history” is intended to imply that the alleged advocates of “socialism and federal paternalism” – who remain strangely unidentified, like any menacing threat should – are undermining the republic as well as daring to question capitalism. That’s double trouble! Actually, Russ, we’ve been violating our Constitution for quite some time, and it’s not just the “socialists” who have paper cuts on their hands. If Russ Sloan has any African-American friends (if so, I seriously doubt they will be employees at the Social Security office next door to the Daily Commercial), he might want to ask them how they feel about the Civil War Amendments being a dead letter until LBJ forced the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act into law. He might want to ask persons falsely accused of terrorism how they feel about being detained without trial. (I suppose that if Lincoln could ignore the writ of habeas corpus then so can FDR, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.) And he might want to ask why the Supreme Court has decided that corporations should enjoy the same political-speech rights as real persons. He might, but he won’t.

Every week that the Leesburg Daily Commercial publishes Russ Sloan’s blatant propaganda represents a missed opportunity to inform and to educate the public. That is not their goal.

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