There’s a fine line between healthy caution and paranoia. The U.S. has been under stress for over a decade and that always heightens emotions. When emotions are out of control logic flies out the window. Republicans have seized the opportunity to promote their failed brand of obstructionism and of all things, austerity.
You can see it ever since 9-11. From the right-wing acceptance of previously unacceptable nastiness in their politics to the media’s irresponsible conflagration of the divisiveness all the way to definitive gridlock in Washington. You can see it in the guns and ammo mentality of the new “Patriots” (a misnomer if ever one existed) and “preppers” insistence of FEMA-trailer internment camps to black helicopters; it’s palpable and unequivocal.
Despite some healthy elements, there has been a paranoid streak in American public life throughout its relatively short life. This, of course has most recently manifested with first, IRS-gate, and now with the totalitarian reaction to this last week’s Patriotism vs unhealthy paranoia revelations about wholesale data mining – and leaker Edward Snowden’s motives – is only the latest demonstration. I’m sure he thinks that he too is a Patriot.
Perhaps it is a deep legacy of those native Indian warriors stealthily maneuvering unseen through the 17th-century forests, but there is always an enemy out there plotting to destroy America’s earthly Eden.
Fifty years ago, an eminent US historian, Richard J Hofstadter, delivered a book entitled The Paranoid Style of American Politics. As much as I disdain using this source, here’s a summary. In it, Mr. Hofstadter suggested that exaggeration, conspiratorial fantasy and an angry Manichean perspective – the world divided between the forces of absolute good and evil – is a habitual feature of domestic politics.
Culture Wars as a Way of Life After the Cold War
The culture wars which smolder in the US on issues such as abortion are much more rigid on both sides than in Europe. Leftwing populists of the 1890s were even paranoid about capitalism – just as many are today. Just one of many, I question many “for-profit” endeavors. Healthcare for one. Making huge profits from keeping people just well enough to continue buying treatments rather than cures has long been an unprovable theory of mine, albeit there are mountains of anecdotal eveidence to back me up. Prisons-for-profit, in my humble opinion, is at the root of our continuing insanity of making criminals out people who would rather smoke marijuana than drink rye whiskey. And why the “livertarians” stand for that is about as hypocritical as anything I’ve ever witnessed.
Hofstadter, forebodingly delivered his hypothesis at Oxford the day before John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. It was later published around the time rightwing Arizona senator Barry Goldwater was on the brink of winning the Republican nomination for president–he lost(badly) to Lyndon B Johnson.
Thus the cold war to contain Soviet expansionism (the even more paranoid Russians felt the same way about us) was apparently won in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. But lo and behold, the de-frocked Tea Party favorite, Allen West, insisted that the KGB is back in business and inhabiting 89 Democratic members of Congress.
President Obama oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden, but the security state that the U.S. assembled after 9/11 to distract the publics attention from the fact that a Republican administration had allowed the worst attack on U.S. Soil since Pearl Harbor, as well as to wage the ill-named “war on terror” still exists, and some say gathers momentum, with the Edward Snowden scandal the latest example.
To this day I cannot believe that our so-called “News” media still allows the likes of Dick, I’ll-steal-a-kid’s-heart-just-to-spew-more-hate, Cheney to proclaim that the Bush Administration kept us safe. Kept us safe from what? Safe from the 9/11 carnage in New York and the Pentagon? Safe from people starving to death after Katrina? Safe from the worst Recession since the Great Depression? Safe from making up reasons to go to war wtih Iraq so that his company, Haliburton, could make billions off of shoddy, incomplete work obtained through no-bid government contracts?
If that’s Cheney’s version of “safe”, surely “safe” must mean falling into a pit of vipers.
So Bin Laden would be chuckling in his grave today if he had a sense of humor–or a grave for that matter–because Bush/Cheney did his work for him. Nothing like a demagogue who burns down a mosque to create fear and repression–for profit! Yes, between the economic deterioration in America and the resurgent FEMA trailer/black helicopter paranoia in the Tea Party, even in his watery grave Bin Laden is getting exactly what he set out to accomplish – and will continue to do so if America doesn’t push back and restrain the self-aggrandizing features of the new Tea Party Patriots–or what they really are–right-wing zealots who have taken the Republican Party hostage with the help of FOX News and the oil magnates the Koch Brothers.
And as destructive, ill-informed and counter-productive as “Patriots” are, it’s just that an unaccountable opportunity and a false sense of righteousness leads them astray. That is exactly what Snowden decided he was seeing in his work as a very well paid data miner in Hawaii. Naturally, his Guardian interview was reassuringly measured. He seemed to be a not-quite normal person reluctantly doing what he saw was his public duty, in ways that are as treasonous as UCLA grad Iva Toguri D’Aquino–you may know her better as one of many that were grouped together and know as Tokyo Rose.
In admitted hindsight, if the excessive reaction to the Boston marathon bombing – the enforced lockdown of a major US city to catch a pathetic pair of lone wolves – did not underline that anxiety, the activities of Prism and the reaction to the Guardian’s disclosures of its scale and reach certainly do.
But the US has less grounds for the paranoia it has repeatedly shown in its history as an independent state than most other countries. Surrounded by two great oceans, bordered by only two states – Canada and Mexico, both more or less friendly – it should feel more secure than China with 20 neighbors, few very friendly at all, or Russia, victim of a surprise attack (like the US) in 1941, but nevertheless exposed to invasion across flat, hard-to-defend borders for centuries.
Yet the US government’s sweeping Palmer Raids (young J Edgar Hoover was one agent involved) and deportations against the “red scare” of 1919-20, an echo of the anti-foreigner “Know Nothing” populism of the mid-19th century, saw no comparable strategy in Britain, though respectable society was equally terrified of a Bolshevik revolution from below.
Hoover’s long reign at the FBI (1935-72) has no comparison either, let alone the fear he struck in the hearts of what William Hague complacently calls those law-abiding citizens who have nothing to fear. President Lyndon Johnson said Hoover would not get rid of Hoover because it is “better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.”
Where that leaves Barack Obama, I do not know. Extremely high levels of expectations were invested in the president in 2008, but he has proven to be a disappointment on a modest scale – if only in his failure to prosecute the Wall Street Banksters whose, at best malfeasance, at worst complicity, did Bin Laden’s mission for him by destroying faith in the American system of capitalism and his apparent and his embrace of the Bush -era security state he once denounced. As Snowden told Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, it is not what he or we expected.
The president does not sound convincing – or even convinced – by what he has been saying. And Guantánamo Bay remains in business. Almost as bad, I recently read Dave Eggers’ book, Zeitoun, the true story of a respectable Syrian-American and his friends wrongly arrested on suspicion of looting in post-Katrina and held Guantánamo-style in theUnited States itself for weeks – no phone call, no lawyer, yellow jumpsuits. So, little wonder Snowden fears for his safety.
There’s always a chance that the United States will pull back from its own excesses and paranoid fears. The Eisenhower administration was not particularly brave when confronted with the poisonous cold war demagoguery of Senator Joe McCarthy in the paranoid, highly traditionalist 1950s. But the US Senate’s (U.S.)Army-McCarthy hearings exposed the Wisconsin Senator for the fraud that he was when he picked a fight with the wrong body politic.
The sorcerer’s (McCarthy) apprentice, Richard Nixon, became president, but his own paranoia was exposed and he was driven from office for his knowledge and cover-up of the Watergate conspiracy. Hopefully someone or something will step up and confront this current bunch of right-wing reactionaries, but Fox News in particular, and the entire television industry in the U.S. has lost its way and will be no help as it appears now.
Moneyocracy has Overtaken the U.S. Media to the Detriment of Us All
If there has been a vacuum created by the downsizing of newsrooms, conservative media have filled it with an unrelenting partisanship unseen in commercial news media for nearly a century. The conservative media program has been a cornerstone of the Moneyocracy’s — the big money and corporate media election complex — political program since 1971.
In the beginning, the work was largely about criticizing the news media for being unfair to conservative Republicans and having a liberal Democratic bias. Although the actual research to support these claims was, to be generous, weak—at least on bst-seller actually claimed corporations such as General Electric were “liberal” companies with an interest in anti-business journalism because they had made small donations to groups like the NAACP and the Audubon Society—the point was not to win intellectual arguments. The point of bashing the “liberal media,” as Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond conceded in 1992, was to “work the refs” like a basketball coach does so that “maybe the ref will cut you a little slack” on the next play.
The ultimate aim of our new Moneyocracy is to destroy the professionalism that has defined journalism since the mid-twentieth century. The nucleus of the problem was that professional journalism, to the degree it allowed editors and reporters some self-governance from the political and commercial values of owners, enabled the legitimate production of news and perspectives beyond the range preferred by conservatives.
That professional journalism basically conveyed the debates and compromise of official sources and remained unwaveringly within the ideological range of the leadership of the two main political parties—it never was actually sympathetic to the political left—was of not a source of anxiety. It still gave sufficiently equal exposure to policy positions on issues such as unions, public education, civil rights, progressive taxation, social security, and the environment that were thoroughly mainstream but abominations to the right.
The solution to moving the political center of gravity to the right was getting the news media on the train, and that meant getting them to have a worldview more sympathetic to the needs of society’s owners–like Paul Ryan’s ludicrous “Makers vs Takers”.
By the 1980s, conservatives moved from mere criticism to active participation with the aggressive creation of right-wing partisan media. The first key move came with AM talk radio. The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine (which required that a broadcaster provide two sides to controversial political issues) and the relaxation of ownership rules gave way to companies with established vast empires and opened the door to a tidal wave of hard-core right-wing talk-show hosts. By the early new millennium, and just in time for Bush-Cheney, the 257 talk stations owned by the five largest companies were airing over 2,500 hours of political talk weekly and well over 90 percent was decidedly right wing.
Now, of course, televised media has absorbed news divisions into the formerly separate entertainment divisions whose sole purpose is to sell ad time. With the passage of the disastrous Citizen’s United ruling by the right-wing majority at the Supreme Court, the floodgates have been flung open to corporate money and the corruption that it brings with the need for influence, subsidies and favorable laws that shield corporations from liability (i.e., the Monsanto Protection Act).
Corporate influence from billionaires such as the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, may have been indirect at first, but has become the new normal. Of the major networks in the U.S., Disney owns ABC, Comcast owns NBC, Time-Warner owns CNN, and Rupert Mudoch/Roger Ailes are essentially the propaganda arm of the Republican Party.
Being a partisan player in the world of professional journalism has provided the right with considerable power to not only influence, but set the news agenda.
It’s no wonder—and no accident—that the lines between paranoia and patriotism are so blurry now that the media giants have a vested interest in ginning up the public for their own profit. But at least when McCarthy and Nixon were abusing their influence to create paranoia the news media was able to maintain a modicum of reasonableness by reporting both sides equally.
Now, like everything else, politics, paranoia and patriotism—as well as the reporting of political chicanery—has simply become a new revenue stream for the wealthy at the expense of the majority of Americans who simply want to survive the times.
Harvey A. Gold