August Sundays are a bother. It will be good when the NFL season starts and the day is given over to watching crazed giant mutants on steroids smash into each other. And there is a bit of sweet justice that each and every one of them is a multimillionaire – given current economic conditions multimillionaires should feel some pain. Of course none of the Goldman Sachs and BP senior management will be on the field, nor will any of the multimillionaire NFL owners, but you can’t have everything. The younger wild-eyed hopped-up fellows with hostile dysfunctional personalities will do. One set of win-at-any-cost sociopaths can stand in for the other.
And it is entertaining – everyone hopes their team of win-at-any-cost sociopaths will beat the snot out of the other team of win-at-any-cost sociopaths. And there is the matter of identification – people watch this stuff because those guys are their surrogates. If only they could do that. Everyone wishes they could bypass the conventions of normal social interaction, where one really ought to be nice or at least minimally polite, and inflict pain and humiliation on the other guy, in an environment where that is not only sanctioned but encouraged. Professional football, with no sentimental ties to your high school or college, and only pure mercenary rage, is a wonderful thing. There’s the wish-fulfillment thing going on, a way to free your inner sociopath – you can indulge those nasty antisocial urges and no one get hurts. Professional football keeps America safe. It’s a safety-valve. Without it we’d all kill each other.
But that makes August, with only its deeply unsatisfying pre-season exhibition games – giving the new guys a chance to show their stuff and the old guys a chance to get in rhythm, and where it really doesn’t matter who wins – a dangerous time. There’s no cultural safety-valve. Hostility builds up, and stays up. And without professional football we turn to other sociopaths in conflict. We turn to politics as an area where we can indulge our urge to bypass the conventions of normal social interaction, and find those doing what we wish we could do, just once.
And that may explain August. Pre-August it was black people preventing good honest white folks from voting – the New Black Panthers (all ten of them) – and last August it was the black folks stealing their elections – that would be ACORN – and this August it’s Muslims who want to conquer their country and “celebrate over the Christian corpses of the dead” at Ground Zero in the Coat Factory Mosque – not to mention “invading, marauding Latino armies coming to steal their property and rape their women” – as Glenn Greenwald summarizes nicely. August is a crazy time. Where are the crazed giant mutants on steroids when you need them? Instead of them we get Glenn Beck with his rally to Restore America and seize the mantle of Martin Luther King for the new disenfranchised and beleaguered minority – evangelical white Christians.
Many have pointed out this is classic Palingenesis –
The doctrines which are used to comprise the political ideology of fascism often move to describe it as a “palingenetic ideology” – primarily as a result of the notion that fascism itself is the rebirth of a state and/or empire in the image of that which came before it – thus, the ancestral political underpinnings. Specifically academic political theorist Roger Griffin refers to fascism as “palingenetic ultranationalism.” The best examples of this can be found with both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany – Italy looking to establish a palingenetic line between the 20th century regime under Benito Mussolini as being the second incarnation of the Roman Empire, while Adolf Hitler’s regime was seen as being the third palingenetic incarnation – beginning first with the Holy Roman Empire (“First Reich”) then with Bismarck’s German Empire (“Second Reich”) and then resulting in Nazi Germany (“Third Reich”).
The first five letters of that odd term are just a coincidence of course. But these folks want their country back, the way it had been before – the way the Founding Fathers had it all arranged, or like selected episodes of Happy Days. Or one thinks of that other show and Archie and Edith singing that song:
And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn’t need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.
Norman Lear was ahead of his time, or it’s an old story. And nostalgia for what never was – or what had been rather awful, really – is not necessarily fascism. In any event, here’s a discussion of the current Neo-Hooverism. Archie Bunker has found a home – or it’s just another August in America. Hostility builds up, and stays up – no professional football yet.
And in place of professional football you might find yourself watching the Sunday political show for your fix of sociopathic behavior – and here’s an interesting clip from Chris Matthews’ panel show. As “Heather” at Crooks and Liars explains it, the issue is the rather extreme rhetoric coming from Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck and such folks, which bothers the host, Chris Matthews. He wants to know what might be driving the seeming hysteria over that mosque in lower Manhattan, which isn’t even a mosque and isn’t at Ground Zero anyway. And Matthews is puzzled by the apocalyptic stuff that Glenn Beck throws in the ring all the time.
The National Review’s Reihan Salam, the token moderate conservative on the panel, tells him there’s no plot and nothing going on – it’s not Rupert Murdoch, who has no control over Glenn Beck anyway. Time’s Joe Klein says Newt Gingrich is smart enough to know better, but Glenn Beck is not all that important – just “something different” and a “paranoid lunatic who is a great entertainer.” Klein says that’s what always happens when you have a combination of a bad economic situation coupled with being at war someone will always jump in to exploit real fears. It happens. But Klein does say that Beck is doing this with the full approval of his “puppet master” Rupert Murdoch.
And then it heats up:
Matthews: Reihan Salam, this whole thing, I think it gets ethnic, I think it is tribal. I listened to Rush Limbaugh this week saying, you know, we’re not Islamophobia, we elected Barack Obama. That proves we’re not Islamophobia. That’s saying he’s Islamic again when the guy’s a Christian.
Salam: I don’t think that’s quite what it is saying. I think what it’s saying is that Barack Obama is someone who comes from a very different kind of background and Americans have embraced him in large numbers. I also think the idea respectfully that Glenn Beck is… ah… you know… is being controlled by Rupert Murdoch as his puppet master gets things wrong.
When you look at Glenn Beck you see someone for example, remember Louis Farrakhan and the Million Man March. What was the Million Man March about? A lot of people were terrified by that. It caused a lot of consternation among liberals and conservatives. But ultimately what you saw was an event where tons of African American men got together and it was really about identity and pride.
And I think that when you are looking at our politics right now, it’s true that in an economic downturn you see a lot of confusion, you see a lot of uncertainty and there is a decent number of people who feel like now “have-nots” – but they feel like “are-nots.” They feel like they’re not being respected in our public life and they want to assert themselves….
Matthews: Who are the Glenn Beck constituency?
Salam: I think that it’s a lot of folks. It’s a lot of people from smaller cities, rural areas, small towns, tend to be white, tend to be ah…
Matthews: Okay, who is their villain?
Salam: I don’t know if they necessarily have a villain…
Klein: Oh, come on!
Salam: … so much as there’s a lot of confusion and anger and resentment.
Heather adds this – “sooner or later you’ve got to ask just what are you so damn angry about.” Salam argued that a lot of these Beck followers defected when Bush was president, but the other panelists laughed at him – they were not speaking out against Washington, and they certainly were not having huge protests sponsored by corporate funded organizations and Fox News when Bush was still in office. This is new and as Heather puts it:
This is all about getting the racist elements of the right wing drummed up enough to go out and vote for Republicans in the midterms, period, the long term consequences of your actions be damned no matter how bad they might be for your party in the long term.
And it comes down to this:
You lose your right to pretend you’re some sort of moderate conservative when you try to put a happy face on Beck’s madness as if his other views weren’t bad enough.
Well, it’s not professional football, but we are dealing with win-at-any-cost sociopaths. And that’s what Matt Taibbi centers on in his Rolling Stone column on the recent primaries:
Some shocking electoral results this week are providing new proof that the loony Tea Party movement has surged to levels of influence far beyond anything most of us could ever have imagined possible, with the key results coming in Arizona and Alaska.
In Sarah Palin’s home state, it’s looking quite a lot like incumbent Lisa Murkowski is going to be ousted by a little-known Tea Party candidate named Joe Miller.
If Murkowski loses, she would be the seventh incumbent and the fourth Republican to lose key primary challenges this year, with Tea Party activism being a driving force in many of those races.
See Joe Miller on ABC’s Face the Nation declare that Social Security and Medicare are absolutely unconstitutional and it will be his mission as senator to end them, and restore America to the way it should be. That’s the sort of thing that Taibbi might think is loony, but your mileage may vary.
Taibbi wrote before that declaration and was seeing something else:
In Arizona, John McCain trounced a Tea Party candidate named J.D. Hayworth by over 30 points in a primary race that was largely interpreted by the media as a repudiation of Tea Party values. I’m not sure they’re right about that. McCain had to spend $20 million to fight off Hayworth – a staggering number for a Senate race – and beyond that, he had to bend himself completely ass-backwards issue-wise in order to maintain what’s left of his cred with right-wing voters.
McCain’s biggest problem with Republicans has always been his occasional willingness to describe Hispanic immigrants as human beings (remember his “Hispanic immigrants are God’s children, too?” spot in 2008?). That occasionally culturally empathetic McCain got stuffed in a steamer trunk for this primary season, though. McCain always had nuanced positions on immigration, having once helped author the 2006 immigration proposal that would have created a difficult but feasible pathway to citizenship for illegals already here in the U.S.; now he’s not only gone back on that, but has gone 100% caveman in a desperate attempt to hold on to his bigot constituency. Never an advocate of walls and fences, McCain in this race was shrieking that we just need to “complete the dang fence.”
And he notes Arizona governor Janet Brewer had been in trouble politically because of a tax increase she proposed two months after taking office, but then gave us Arizona’s 1070 immigration law, and that turned everything round for her with all Republicans. And she did the Fox News thing – telling her scare stories about immigration. She told reporters the Arizona deserts were littered with beheaded bodies – and those claims were debunked by local law enforcement. But you still hear about that on Fox News. She won her primary too.
Here is Taibbi’s assessment:
Everyone involved with politics understands the current dynamic. It’s not hard to grasp. You take very tough economic times, add them to a heavy dose of political opportunism, and multiply both by the aggravating factor of a nihilistic commercial media, and what you get is ethnic scapegoating on a massive scale.
There’s no doubt that with the economy as bad as it is, this would – justifiably – be a bad time for incumbents under almost any circumstances. But this summer’s wave of political discontent has been a completely new animal, with the racial-animus thing trending toward early-sixties levels. The difference between then and now, though, is that this wave of anger is being centrally directed.
He does see a plot of sorts:
A lot of Tea Party anger is driven by real local issues – where I live in central Jersey, for instance, there are a lot of pissed-off white people crowing over a nutty state Supreme Court case in which a Central American drunk driver got off because cops didn’t explain the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer in his native Spanish. But without the constant reinforcement of national 24-hour media, which has taken these isolated cases and presented them as a coast-to-coast massive conspiracy, the rage over stories like this would never reach the levels we’re seeing.
In fact if you follow Fox News and the Limbaugh/Hannity afternoon radio crew, this summer’s blowout has almost seemed like an intentional echo of the notorious Radio Rwanda broadcasts “warning” Hutus that they were about to be attacked and killed by conspiring Tutsis, broadcasts that led to massacres of Tutsis by Hutus acting in “self-defense.”
Is that too obscure? Those broadcasts, unedited, run under the opening scenes of Hotel Rwanda. They sound a lot like Beck and Hannity on Fox News, but with a British colonial accent.
Taibbi just lists a few things on this side of the Atlantic, like this:
On July 12, Glenn Beck implied that the Obama government was going to aid the New Black Panther Party in starting a race war, with the ultimate aim of killing white babies. “They want a race war. We must be peaceful people. They are going to poke, and poke, and poke, and our government is going to stand by and let them do it.” He also said that “we must take the role of Martin Luther King, because I do not believe that Martin Luther King believed in, ‘Kill all white babies.'”
And there’s this:
CNN contributor and Redstate.com writer Erick Erickson, on the Panther mess: “Republican candidates nationwide should seize on this issue. The Democrats are giving a pass to radicals who advocate killing white kids in the name of racial justice and who try to block voters from the polls.”
And there are these:
July 12: Rush Limbaugh says Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder “protect and represent” the New Black Panther party.
July 28: Rush says Supreme Court decision on 1070 strips Arizonans of their rights to defend themselves against an “invasion”: “I guess the judge is saying it’s not in the public interest for Arizona to try to defend itself from an invasion. I don’t know how you look at this with any sort of common sense and come to the ruling this woman came to.” That same day, Rush says this: “Muslim terrorists are going to have a field day in Arizona. You cannot ask them where they’re from. You cannot even act like we know where they’re from. You cannot ask them for their papers. We can ask you for yours. Not them.”
July 29: The Washington Times asks “Should Arizona Secede?” and says the Supreme Court “is unilaterally disarming the people of Arizona in the face of a dangerous enemy” with the aim of creating a “socialist superstate.” The paper writes: “The choice is becoming starkly apparent: devolution or dissolution.”
July 29, Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy continues the Radio Rwanda theme, saying, “If the feds won’t protect the people and Governor Brewer can’t protect her citizens, what are the people of Arizona supposed to do?”
There are more, but those will do, and Taibbi seems at his wit’s end:
There’s nothing in the world more tired than a progressive blogger like me flipping out over the latest idiocies emanating from the Fox News crowd. But this summer’s media hate-fest is different than anything we’ve seen before. What we’re watching is a calculated campaign to demonize blacks, Mexicans, and gays and convince a plurality of economically-depressed white voters that they are under imminent legal and perhaps even physical attack by a conspiracy of leftist nonwhites. They’re telling these people that their government is illegitimate and criminal and unironically urging secession and revolution.
The Fox/Rush/Savage crowd in the last 18 months has taken the anti-Muslim fervor that launched a phony war in Iraq, carried George Bush to re-election, and pushed through the Patriot Act, and re-directed that anger at a domestic nonwhite enemy. In doing so they’ve achieved a perfect storm of political cross-purposes: they’ve almost completely succeeded in distracting the public from the real causes of their economic misfortune (i.e. Wall Street corruption), they’ve re-energized a Republican party that was devastated by eight years of Bush-era corruption and incompetence, and, as usual, they’ve made Rupert Murdoch a shitload of money.
But then he concedes that “none of these actors is pushing this crazy movement out of any real desire to stoke a race war.”
For these institutional leaders and patrons of the Tea Party movement, this is all about material expediency: overcoming the real threat of new financial regulations after the crash, winning elections, and making TV profits. It’s just our bad luck that driving frustrated/broke white suburbanites into a race-hatred-frenzy happens to be good business for these folks. And all of this is race-baiting-for-cash is borne out of the same short-term, indifferent-to-consequence thinking that we saw from the Wall Street guys in recent years – who created mountains of deadly leverage capable of destroying the global financial system for the sake of a few one-year bonuses.
But of course all these folks doing what they do “for these dreary commercial reasons” makes it even worse – as he notes, at least Hitler really hated Jewish people.
But he does see a bright side. Americans can be convinced to completely change their minds about lots of things rather quickly:
The same Americans who six or seven years ago were looking skyward in search of poison-distributing Saddam-drones and buying duct tape and bottled water to protect themselves against imminent Muslim attack are now probably not spending five minutes a week worrying about Muslim terrorists – and instead arming themselves against the coming black-Mexican-leftist-communist state. To me that indicates that if Fox and Glenn Beck can be induced to jerk off to some perhaps similarly profitable but less toxic hate-fantasy (midgets from New Zealand are taking our jobs!), all of this – well, it maybe won’t go away, but it won’t have us steaming toward widespread racial violence like we are now.
In the meantime he suggests boycotts of Fox and Limbaugh and the rest – get their advertisers to bail on them by refusing to buy anything promoted on their shows:
Isn’t that at least the first move here? It’s beginning to strike me that sitting by and doing nothing about this madness is not a terribly responsible way to behave.
But boycotts may not work. Glenn Beck already lost at least half of his sponsors – Fox News keeps him on, simply subsidizing the losses. Everything else they air still makes a ton of money. And yes, you could boycott all of Fox News, but the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London and Fox Entertainment and Fox Sports and Twentieth Century Fox Studios could take up the slack – Avatar is being rereleased, with new footage, and the sequel to Wall Street hits theaters next month. Would you boycott those? As for broadcast television, people like the Simpsons and Family Guy and Glee. What about American Idol? Fox Sports has exclusive broadcast rights to the Super Bowl through 2014 and so on. How would you pull off a boycotts of all this?
Maybe the only thing to do is wait out August. Professional football will get going again. As least some people will find a way to channel their pathological win-at-any-cost urges. The problem is that there are people who just aren’t that into football. They have politics. And that is a problem.