Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sabotaging democracy: crossing the line from dishonest to evil

"[I]n a populistic culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible." - Richard Hofstadter, "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt"

"There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men." - Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

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A truly excellent segment by Maddow covering the democracy unraveling hate that is being promulgated by corporate lobbyists and conservative ideologues who want to prevent any form of health care reform by engaging in a ruthless, Machiavellian campaign of demonization, disinformation, and fear-mongering that is so morally deprived that it goes well beyond the realm of mere dishonesty and into a category of deception that can only be described as evil.

What else can you say about a representative of a corporate sponsored astroturf group, representing the interests of the health insurance industry, telling an audience that efforts to provide some kind of public health care to the tens of millions and millions of American who either lack health insurance or who are underinsured are a first step to a new Holocaust. What can possibly be said about an organization that worships money to such a degree that it is willing to sell its soul to tell such Orwellian lies in defense of a health industry in which the business model is set up so that the profit motive is to figure out ways to deny persons health care?

It's difficult to understand how just 6 months into the presidency of Barack Obama, so many self-described "conservatives" have managed to work themselves into an hysterical furor and fear about living under an oppressive, American Nazi regime of Obama. But as I've said many times now on this blog, if you understand the core of these individuals and pundits as being authoritarians with a black/white Manichean world view, it becomes easier to make sense of their behavior.

When they lose an election, that means that Evil has come to power. Satan is in control (Figuratively for some, literally for the Christian nationalists.) It is Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia ... 1984 come to life. This is why the movement's parallel reality seems to lag behind conservative ideology. Once the Other is in power, it is only a matter of time for the leaders of the movement to construct such a reality that fits to their preconceived notions of the evil characteristics of their eternal Enemy. (E.g. President Obama isn't even a citizen! says the Manichean minded psuedo-conservative.)

What is so destructive about this sort of mentality - and especially those who fuel the epistemic fire with non-stop paranoid propaganda - is that it is difficult for democracy to function if you have a core constituency of one of the two viable political parties in your nation which has the belief that either they win an election or it is time to wage a revolutionary war to win back their freedom. This is brand of "democracy" in which the only legitimate outcome is theirs; all of the rest of electorate cease to be Americans and fall into the category of the Other. This is why Glenn Beck can say in all sincerity (after pretending to be President Obama and then setting the American public on fire in effigy) that President Obama is not delivering the change that he and his 9/12 movement voted for, managing not to notice that there are millions of Americans who voted Obama and other Democrats into office precisely because they do want some public form of healthcare. The normal democratic process of election and policy making thus turn into the very definition of tyranny, and mobs of right-wing populist protesters, organized by conservative elites, show up to shut down the democractic process at town hall meetings. Borrowing the Adorno quote that Hofstadter used in his famous essay on the psuedo-conservative revolt, "The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

So, yes, you or I might point out that the United States in the only democracy in the world that doesn't have some form of a public health care system, that we rank below many of these other systems, or - most importantly (and obviously) - that none of these other democracies have somehow magically turned into the nightmare totalitarian state that Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, and the rest keep warning their audience about. But to the authoritarian invididual residing in the noise machine alternate universe, these are simply facts that do not stick. It's like trying to mix oil in water. Their minds - so long as they are brainwashed in an insular, hermetically sealed right-wing noise machine telling them that evil liberal enviro-fascist Commie Marxist black nationalist community organizer brownshirts are coming to take their guns, round them up and kill their grandparents* - lack the capacity to integrate such knowledge into the framework that they use to view the world, so it is discarded; replaced with a fiction fitted to the framework.

So when angry protesters aren't allowed into a town hall meeting because the building's fire capacity has been reached that means that Obama is a fascist and oh my god we're about to be rounded up because They are evil. When President Bush created "Free Speech Zones" to prohibit dissent and spied on anti-war groups that was fine because They are evil. The contradiction you or might perceive is blurred by this Manichean division. (h/t Mahablog for making this point.)

And when angry union members are confronted by angry protesters who believe that union members are Nazi thugs (and perhaps the feeling was mutual for the union members) non-ideologues might expect that tempers might flare and a fight might break out. But for the psuedo-conservative authoritarian, there is only one interpretation: Obama led fascist goons are out to silence the opposition.

Nevermind that actual fascists were the ones assaulting union members and the left (as opposed to vice versa in AM radio world)**, what really bothers me is the same point that I raised before: that violence inspired directly or in part by the Republican noise machine is interpreted to mean that left-wing violence is on the rise! Which further perpetuates a state of hysteria, making rational discourse of the issues nigh impossible.

*Sadly, this is not hyperbole on my part, but actual claims that have been made not by just fringe kooks, but by leading voices of the conservative movement.
**See here and here for a specific example of actual, historical American fascist violence.

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