Exploring Human Potential

Channeling New Jersey’s “Bridgegate” – The Muslim Ban “Shock Event” Undermines Safety and Security in America.

Posted on | February 2, 2017 | 2 Comments

 Heather Richardson, Boston College

Mike Magee

When Republicans waved through Tom Price this week, the AMA & AAMC got exactly what they desired.  Business interests trumped their highest ideals. But as my father used to say, “Careful what you wish for.” In achieving their ethically compromised goal, they tied themselves to the Trump/ Bannon regime.

Their new business partners staged the Muslim Ban “shock event”, a national version of New Jersey’s “Bridgegate”. And the nation’s patients, for whom the House of Medicine continues to profess an undying commitment, absorbed a fountain of stress that did little for their overall health and well being.

Consider the measured assessment of Boston College historian and political scientist, Heather Cox Richardson, who this week exposed on Facebook the rationale behind the Muslim Ban and its methodology:

“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.”

When Christie staff  staged “Bridgegate”, the public outcry caught him and his aides in a serious undertow. Some are on their way to jail, and Christie, if he avoids prosecution, has forfeited his political career. With time, Trump and Bannon may suffer the same fate. For a profession that relies on public trust for their privileged position in society and the right to function with great latitude and independence, associating with this crowd seems a very bad political bet. If they have their way, vulnerable patients will soon be left out in the cold, and the public will remember these moves as clearly as they do the attempts to scuttle Medicare a half century ago.


2 Responses to “Channeling New Jersey’s “Bridgegate” – The Muslim Ban “Shock Event” Undermines Safety and Security in America.”

  1. Susan Pellerin
    February 5th, 2017 @ 9:34 am

    Dr. Magee: Thank you so much for ‘sharing’ this ‘shock event’ article – I’ve been sending copies to everyone for about a week. “We’ need a shock event and marching, boycotting for a day, filling out surveys and petitions isn’t enough for this group I have now tagged “The Band of Thugs”.

    While narcissists are at times impacted by learning that people don’t like them or are ashamed of them – this tactic doesn’t seem to be an effective method to ‘impact Trump’. He has surrounded himself with people who spin alternative information, they will not tell him the truth(they aren’t brave enough) and therefore he is the classic :know it all).

  2. Mike Magee
    February 5th, 2017 @ 9:40 am

    Thanks, Susan! We are beginning to see democracy in action. Each must do her part, as all who believe in integrity, truth, and hopeful futures follow your lead!

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