The Rise of A Postmodern Racist Movement?
A Friday email cited by Ta-Nehisi Coates, at the Atlantic...
Yesterday evening I was to attend to the Health Care summit with(D) Rep Betty Reed and(D) Rep Kathy Castor, I'm a Precinct Captain (203) in Tampa and we received our talking points to rebut any NEGATIVE GOP talking points on healthcare. I never made it in the building. I've never in my life really experience outright racism in a public place. Signs of Obama hung in effigy, racial slurs on signs, people chanting negative words ( too many to list) and outright screaming at Obama supporters. The hatred was in their eyes and they actually scared me for a moment. At first I was shocked, then a little scared and then I got outright mad in the span of 1 minute.............. I actually left (the "hood" would have come out). I was totally blown away it was a mad house. I'm kinda mad at my self now, because I left. I'm still shaking my head in awe....................I'm still cold inside.
There seems little question that something odd is going on with the healthcare debate. Foremost is the ridiculous extent to which the debate has been entirely commandeered by flagrant, outright lies -- things about euthanasia, and death panels, and the like, abject propaganda peddled directly from House and Senate offices. We have had lying in our discourse since the beginning of that discourse, but it has been a long while since the fabrications have been so blatant, so absolutely without even the smallest grain of truth. To take a Republican-sponsored healthcare provision that rather innocently and uncontroversially extends insurance coverage to those that want to create their own living wills and turn it into a declaration that the government will decide every five years whether or not you should be euthanized is something out of the Protocols, or out of Saddam's Iraq, or a mimicry of the worst and most stupid and most absurd of North Korean propaganda towards their own citizens.
Likewise, the explicit instruction to protestors not to debate, but to aggressively attempt to shut down the meetings entirely -- not normal. It is perhaps the best possible approach for insurance lobbyists to take, if their goal is to protect the profits of their industry -- but it is still not normal. We have always had the fringes of such speech, but I cannot recall a time it has been so celebrated as the formal solution to political debate. Certainly not by a major political party, coupled with the majority of their most popular pundits and talking heads, coupled again to lobbyist groups with long histories of corporate astroturfing. And the proud shuffling just-up-to-the-line-of-violence, right in the very faces of their own representatives of Congress, requiring police protection in order to escort those elected representatives safely from the meetings -- that part is new. That part is not normal.
It is more than a little troubling that each of the recent, most explicitly aggressive and loud and factless "movements" to appear on the scene since our first black American president took office appear to be, in large part, made up of the same people. Categorizing them informally there are the birthers, people who do not believe President Barack Obama is truly an American. There are the teabaggers (our name for them, cough, not theirs), a group that suddenly came to the conclusion that a tax structure that was begrudgingly tolerable in 2008, under Bush, is now the highest form of tyranny a mere handful of months later. There are the deathers, those that seem to quite firmly believe the propaganda of eugenics and euthanasia being cheerfully peddled to them by national leaders, and who take the conspiracy theory to absolute heart as being the nearly unavoidable result of any attempt to reform the straining, hyperexpensive and increasingly incompetent American healthcare system.
But these are not three disparate movements with three different practitioners, three different conspiracy theories that simply happen to share the same summertime stage. In practice and organization they are one movement, a single collection of the same set of animated citizens and televised leaders, and their signs decrying fascism, Naziism, communism, taxes, euthanasia and outrage over 1960's-era Hawaiian government paperwork mingle freely at every protest. If you find a newly minted tax protestor, you are as likely as not to find a birther and a deather as well, all tucked neatly inside the same polo shirt. They are nearly exclusively white, predominantly middle aged and elderly, and unambiguously conservative. Many of those shouting against their government are already participants in the same "socialized medicine" they decry, but to a person will not consider their Medicare to be of that evil ilk.
It is, in short, a movement made up of the enfranchised and enabled; people who have gained every benefit from the politics of America and yet who feel in their very bones that they are the oppressed ones, the ones who have nothing left to lose, so rapidly is America falling away from them. It is rare to run across any movement so deeply angry -- or more to the point, a movement which explicitly celebrates anger as the primary mission of their activism. They are not willing to listen to any factual evidence that contradicts their own beliefs in whatever dark conspiracies have been peddled to them; they have in fact made it their publicly proclaimed mission to block any such explanations from even being attempted.
That seems the operative element of discourse, of late. It is angry beyond any objective rationale. It is actively hostile to fact. It finds the mere premise of debating a political argument to be deeply offensive.
And as a movement, it is large.
Pondering the email he was sent, Coates writes:
One thing to keep in mind is that race, and racism, have rarely ever acted alone. One of the best points that Phillip Dray makes in his classic history of lynching is that epidemics of lynching often coincided, not just with an expansion of black rights, but with increased labor mobility among white women. So fear of white women, and their independence, as well as fear of sexual competition, all worked in concert. It wasn't simply "I hate niggers" -- it never is. It was "I don't much like black people, and prices are going up, and I have to let my wife work, so I can survive, and I'm scared she won't stay with me if she's not dependent on me and I'd die if she left me for a black guy." Or some such.
Ditto for the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn't just racism -- it was class also. In the South you had this black middle class that always had to be deferential to the most poorest white person in the world. The prospect of losing that deference, of already being lower than the white aristocracy and now also being lower than a class of blacks too, wreaked havoc.
It seems at first a bizarre thought, a mere freeform hiccup of the brain, but between a half-dozen different commentators I am apparently already far from the first to have it: it seems to me like the last time we saw public discourse be as intentionally devolved as it is today was during, of all things, American desegregation.
That was the last time you had deeply conservative southern governors and states yelling about secession because the federal government was forcing things on them that they couldn't tolerate, and making belligerent anti-federalism statements over the slightest little thing.
That was the last time America so prominently saw, on television, shouting white mobs and the threats against lawmakers, all explicitly intended not at debate, but as efforts of pure intimidation in order to stop the debate from ever taking place.
That was when you had phalanxes of very dumb but very loud people weeping in front of the cameras that the fabric of America was being destroyed, though they couldn't begin to actually tell you why or how, only that it involved black people rising above their place in the world and the subsequent corruption of their government.
That was when you had men with fervent political beliefs walking into "too-liberal" churches and murdering in cold blood those who they disagreed with.
Why on earth would a southern governor choose to raise the specter of secession over something as asinine as a policy dispute over nuances of a financial stimulus package? Is that all it takes, is that the end-all issue of issues, over these last long decades, the final thing that brings the rallying cry of "too much!" from the head of state of, well, a state? And we are to believe that the American public, which wants a public option in heath insurance by margins ranging from sixty to eighty percent or so, in various polls, is at the same time is so enraged that the government would dare offer such a thing that they want nothing to do with even holding meetings on the subject? And we are to believe in government-mandated Death Panels, now, if government dares assure you that your health insurance will optionally cover living wills, if you desire to have one?
Now, how it is that a healthcare reform debate has managed to raise a viciously angry, assertively fact-hostile and debate-hostile political climate that brings back national memories of American desegregation seems outright baffling. Except that many of the paranoid healthcare protestors are "teabaggers" as well, and many of those "teabaggers" are "birthers" besides, and the whole parcel is, from polling, clearly a fringe movement based most substantially in the southern states, the only remaining stronghold of the party that contains them. And -- there is no way around it -- America has just now elected the first black president. The very first, after two centuries and then some, and even though I am in the terribly liberal, very nearly socialist hellhole of California I can still go no more than a few miles from my home and see the confederate battle flag hanging from a living room window, or stuck to the bumper of a worn and battered truck.
Before we ever had healthcare town halls, the teabaggers-now-eugenics-protestors were purportedly all about taxes: they had large, conservative-promoted protests about how unfair the entire affair was, and Obama held prominence as the be-all, end-all cause of it all. Now, their taxes under Obama were actually going down, not up, but that major, presumably all-deflating fact didn't make so much as a dent in the movement. It simply didn't matter: they still insisted that under Obama, taxes were suddenly at socialist comma fascist comma Europe-like levels. The same people, all denizens of far-right conservatism, didn't have fits about their taxes under Bush -- it only came up as prominent, so-called "popular" movement at the exact moment Obama became president.
Likewise with the birther movement. There is no documentation that can deflate it; there is no final number of reporters from the right, the left and the center who have, can or could go see the original certificate and report back that all is in order; there is no number of public birth announcements or assertions from the officials of the state of Hawaii that can dim the candle of their beliefs. Some of the them hold up signs with the President's name misspelled, Barrak, or with swastikas or sickles or other emblems of past tyrannies: they seem to be less than serious in their grounded explorations of the man's origins.
We didn't have a nationwide epidemic of people buying up weapons and ammunition under that terrible menace to the nation, Bill Clinton, though those years saw far more substantial gun legislation than anything any Democrat has proposed this decade. But when Barack Obama was elected, it started immediately, and continues to run full speed.
The last poll this site commissioned was startling. From a prominent and credible pollster, it showed beyond question how very explicitly racial the birther movement is, and it cannot help but raise questions of motive. Maybe this fight is a postmodern segregationist one after all, postmodern because it is not even about the thing it is purportedly about, but fought through weird three-times-removed proxy issues that even the participants themselves don't really grasp and heaven knows have no actual information on.
The mere continued presence of ingrained racism is nothing surprising. We had strong rattles of the old segregationists during the Reagan years, and over and over in every "immigration" debate from then until these last summer days, where people like Pat Buchanan moan about how we're becoming a not-white nation, thereby destroying their own visions of America, and where Lou Dobbs pivots seemingly effortlessly from virulent anti-immigration rhetoric to being one of the few talking heads to give televised credence to allegations of suspicious foreign-ness against a mixed-race President.
That may be the difference; this time we've got a black president, the first one ever, and one that received not a bare minimum of votes but delivered a true political spanking to the conservatives that rallied against him, and maybe that one small fact turns out to be the only thing it takes to turn the usual muttering about federal meddling and states' rights and incipient brownness-slash-socialism into full-on talk of secession and eugenics and organized intimidation explicitly plotted to discredit even the concept of discussing national issues. Because it seems to be the same people -- white, ultra-conservative, mostly from the south and from rural areas -- and the same general arguments, and the same climate of aggressively irrational, proudly uninformed, thoroughly paranoid fury.
There is not a conservative politician or talking head in the country that would not deny it up and down, of course, and be red-faced that anyone would even suggest it. But the current climate is the current climate, and has been documented on every television screen. We've got governors yelling about secession, and major politicians peddling stories of imminent threats to your family and your children by the very government they are supposedly a part of, and every day the town hall footage just seems to look more and more like a modernized version of the mob attacks against citizens and legislators during old anti-desegregation rallies, and we don't need to say "sooner or later someone will be shot" because it has already happened, and multiple times, and in truth it never really left us, these last fifty years.
As of yet it is only an idle, troubled thought, good for nothing. But as Coates says, even during racism it wasn't about racism, it was always about a nebulous something else. Given how readily every lie is latched on to, and how furiously everything to the contrary is shouted down, one wonders if even the protestors truly know what they are protesting against.