Friday, October 10, 2008

Something of a followup to Willful Ignorance

Thanks to Annie of Home of the Brave, I got wind of Emptywheel, who's been piecing together the concerns that are increasingly being voiced by the mainstream, such as it is, within both Dem and GOP about the increasingly virulently angry and mob-like behavior at McCain-Palin rallies. Both posts should be read in full. While you're at it, this would be a good time to get a refresher course on eliminationism, something that I periodically address here (as I did on my old Left End of the Dial blog). Here's a sampler of a few things I've said in the past, with the hope that you'll find them of interest. Let's start with something from June, 2004 - Feeling the Love? Or is it the Hatred?
An issue that I've touched on a bit over the last few months, and which has been discussed much more ably by David Neiwert, is that of the mainstreaming of eliminationist rhetoric in right-wing circles. Whenever I encounter one of Junior Caligula's true believers, the conversation almost invariably shifts to how supposedly hate-filled so-called left-wing blogs, websites, and media figures are in their treatment of Dear Leader and Dear Leader's supporters, etc. When I offer a whole laundry list of examples of right-wingers engaging in hate speech as a rejoinder, the response is typically one of dismissal (e.g., "those are only isolated incidents."). If only I could be so sanguine. Ask cartoonist Ted Rall or comedian Margaret Cho their opinion: they've received countless such "isolated" incidents in the form of email insults, and threats of physical harm. Why? They've touched a nerve by taking the piss out of a few wingnut sacred cows (whether it's the canonization of the soon-to-be first Protestant saint, Ronald Reagan, or pointing out the rather obvious fact that Dear Leader is the emperor without any clothes). Add to that various and sundry reports of movie theatre owners receiving death threats right before Fahrenheit 9/11 hits the screens, the goons who assaulted an art gallery owner recently over a controversial painting depicting an Abu Ghraib style torture scene, the goons who physically threatened and in at least one case assaulted opponents of Arnold Schwartzenegger's candidacy for governor of California last year, any of a number of accounts of threats and assaults on anti-war demonstrators, etc., and one sees that rather than isolated incidents we have something of a pattern emerging.

Once again, David Neiwert takes a look at where the hatred really is coming from. Contrary to popular opinion, it sure isn't coming from Rather it is coming straight from not only the streets but also the mainstream where such enlightened pillars of society such as Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Linda Chavez, Grover Norquist, etc., have been more than happy to spew and transmit plenty of hate and violence-filled bile over the airwaves and in print. Why are these folks important? As it turns out, they are important in the influence they have on those right-wing authoritarians who look up to them for leadership. One thing that Bob Altemeyer noted so aptly in various books on right-wing authoritarianism is that among the facets of the authoritarian personality structure is something called "authoritarian aggression." That's not to say that right-wing authoritarians are dispositionally aggressive or violent. As an aside, the data that I've been collecting on right-wing authoritarians shows no link between scores on Altemeyer's RWA scale and standard measures of trait aggressiveness. Rather, people who are highly authoritarian tend to show a greater tendency to engage in aggressive or violent acts under a specific set of conditions: namely when such actions are perceived to be sanctioned by those authority figures whom they follow. If authoritarians' own leaders are stating that their political opponents or "enemies" are inhuman, pure evil, and need to be eliminated by any means necessary, that's a pretty strong signal to the average authoritarian that aggression against those particular targets is at least tacitly sanctioned. Such aggression is primarily viewed by authoritarians as punitive.

A quick note: keep in mind that when I discuss right-wing authoritarians that I am not in any way, shape, or form discussing conservatives. As I see it, much of what makes one a conservative is a tendency towards conventionalism: that is, a tendency to strongly conform to established customs or norms. Authoritarians too are very conventionalistic, but in addition are highly submissive (ordinary run of the mill conservatives tend to be a rather independent lot) and willing to engage in aggression if sanctioned by authorities (something that I really don't see much if at all among ordinary conservatives). Conservatism is a different vibe. One can hold reasoned and cordial discussions with conservatives (one won't likely change their minds, but they'll tend to hear you out), whereas with authoritarians such efforts at civil conversation are likely exercises in futility - unless of course your idea of a good time is shouting matches, shoving matches, and death threats.
Just change the names a bit - replace Junior Caligula with McCain-Palin - and the song remains eerily the same. From around the same period - this time May 2004 - Let's Have Fun with Eliminationism!

Check this piece, I Have Met the Enemy..., written by Patricia Kneisler about a recent encounter with a rather belligerent wingnut:
For the first time ever in my life, I had someone threaten to kill me tonight. He was nearly apoplectic with rage, screaming curses, his finger right in my face, his eyes slits of venom. Ex-Navy lifer, I gathered. Probably in his late 50’s. Beer belly. A person so devoid of humanity I was stunned.

Good lord, you might ask. What on earth did you, a 52 year old professional woman, do to provoke that?

All I did was exercise my duty as a very concerned citizen in what I thought was America. I stood silently out on the sidewalk in my California town with a sign in each hand. One sign showed a tally of the number of Iraqi civilian dead from the Iraq Body Count website … the other the number of coalition soldiers dead to date. This is my regular Thursday night gig, something I’ve done every week for 14 months now.

...The man took enough of a breath for Tom to get a word in edgewise. “What about the Constitution?”


“No,” I replied. “It is us who will not let YOU destroy our country. We – will – not – let - you.” Well, OK, I called him an asshole, too. Tom is my witness. I thought of those 11,000 innocent dead Iraqis and I called him an asshole.

As he finally stormed back around to the driver’s side of his car, a shouting match ensued (not on Tom’s part … I’m afraid he was the only adult in the group). And then came the parting shot:

“Bush will win in a LANDSLIDE. And if he doesn’t, WE know where to find you. WE can take care of you. WE can make sure you don’t EVER fuck with this country again.”

...That’s when I thought of Abu Ghraib. In fact, the pictures seemed to flash like a slide show through my brain, one after another. Grinning, leering Americans torturing human beings stripped of every shred of their humanity in the eyes of their torturers.

And I understood. Mr. Ex-Navy would have fit right in.

I met the dark underbelly of America tonight. I really did meet the enemy. And he really is ______.
I periodically ask myself how well the analogies hold up between contemporary American social and political life and that of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s. Although no analogy is likely to be perfect, there are some parallels. A cat by the handle "Lupin" over at Billmon's Whiskey Bar expressed some of those parallels fairly aptly:
Selfishly, I am also very much concerned by the consequences of the FAILURE (ie: all the various failures you enumerated in your remarkable analysis) at home.

There is, of course, the economic failure. It was Paul Krugman, I think, who once wrote that our budget deficit puts us in the position of the Warnes Bros Coyote after he's run off the edge of the cliff, and before he's looked under his feet.

How long will it take until we fall, and how hard will the fall be?

Then we have a societal failure. Fascism is always born from the failure and the pauperization of democracies.

As was the case with Germany, a U.S. reeling from a huge deficit, possibly inflation, job outsourcing, unemployment, high gas prices, and a humiliating military defeat caused by a "stab in the back from the liberals" (watch the right-ewing already orchestrating this as we speak), will be fertile ground for increased / renewed neo-fascist activity.

...I've been concerned that, even if Kerry wins, the neofascists will not give up easily. I don't necessarily mean BushCo, I mean the base. Political assassinations, intimidation, violence, etc.

Let us recall the recent case of Michael Breit who kept a hit list of high-ranking U.S. officials and celebrities, such as former Attorney General Janet Reno and filmmaker Michael Moore.

Now, in Breit's case the system seems to have worked (somewhat), but how many more Breits are loose out there in our red neck beerhalls? How many are ready to move and enlist in the 2006 American version of the S.A.?

The picture you outline, Billmon, is only the foreign picture. The domestic consequences of the FAILURE are inescapable and many.

The future of America may be very grim indeed.
I've written and/or provided links to other excellent commentary on this theme a bit over the past few months; for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, and there's probably more. Each of these links captures some facet of the theme or analogy, from the eliminationist rhetoric and its mainstreaming into respectable conservative channels, incidents of violence against dissidents, home-grown right-wing terror groups, and the sorts of factors that allow destructive obedience to thrive.

My guess is that those of us comprising the liberal/progressive/leftie communities will need to be especially vigilant not only in the coming months, but the coming years, as even Junior Caligula's eviction from the White House will not mean the end of our own home-grown fascist elements. No doubt that these cats will be more than a little pissed off at the outcome of the Iraq war fiasco and potentially the outcome of this year's elections, and we're the ones they're pinning the blame on (even though a reasonable person would know better not to). Reminds me of that old Chinese curse about living in interesting times...
Obviously, Junior Caligula remained in the White House - thank a combination of vote tampering and the uninspiring and very warmongerish "opposition" candidate John Kerry. But one could find plenty of examples during the run-up to the 2004 election that were disturbing, to say the least, including articles and images of right-wingers assaulting anti-war and anti-Bush protesters. Eliminationist rhetoric, and occasional action, has continued unabated in the years since. As Annie does, it is important to place the behavior at McCain-Palin rallies in its context, and realize that what we're witnessing now is not something that just came out of a vacuum, but rather has been brewing for a while.

There's a lot of anger and real and perceived disenfranchisement out there, and it will be manifest in actions. It's only a matter of how that energy gets channeled. Like Richard of American Leftist, given the abysmal failure of neoliberal style capitalism, we on the left (not the faux left of "progressive" Democrats) have an opportunity to offer attractive alternatives to potentially fascist or authoritarian tribalist approaches.

In the meantime, be vigilant.

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