It has been very hard to watch the weird gyrations of American politics since the beginning of the run-up to the 2016 election. Watching as an American living overseas it all looks very surreal. We are ex-pats. It's hard to believe what has happened to the United States in our absence.
When I am in America, it is actually a bit easier, because then I spend most of every day talking to real Americans and in the midst of it all I can see and hear that they are essentially the same more or less good, more or less reasonable people that I remember. In March of this year I spent a couple of weeks talking to agents at banks and insurance companies, and store clerks, and nice staff at the full range of restaurants and businesses, and they could just do their jobs and be themselves. I was just a customer/client, and I was cheerful, polite, and appreciative, so they were happy to help me. The absence of politics was refreshing.
It's very different when viewed from overseas. Here I must accomplish most of my social interactions with Americans on social media, where everyone is now wearing a mask and assuming a hyper-partisan posture depending on their politics. If I make a comment that is critical of their team, which I frequently do if their team starts with a “T” or an “R,” I might end up on a death list. If there is any doubt in their minds, they will go and check my page, where they will immediately discover that I am way to the left of center. Many of them will then begin to foam at the mouth and go into full paranoid mode.
The Paranoid Style
Politics in America, and American society in general, have always been a bit on the paranoid side. If you haven't read it already, you should ask Professor Google to direct you to “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” a remarkable essay by Richard J. Hofstadter that appeared in Harper's Magazine in 1964. It's a jaw-dropper, and an eye-opener.
The style first manifested itself in the colonial period, and has always been percolating in the background of American political life. Sometimes at a simmer, waiting for an opportunity to strike, and sometimes at full boil, driving people to madness and excess. Guess which condition we are at now?
Early on there were delusional, paranoid conspiracy theories about Freemasons controlling the government. A bit later on came the panic over the illusory attempt by Catholics to take over the United States through the agency of disguised Jesuit priests spread out all over the country. And don't forget the Bavarian Illuminati! They still get a mention these days, although perhaps under a different name, like the Bilderberg Group or something. The Jews are always in there somewhere too, because, well, they're the Jews! Henry Ford and a lot of other American Nazis were only too happy to spread lies about Jews using that ridiculous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” scam. You still hear that fake book mentioned today, now mostly in Russia, I believe.
The paranoia came in waves that would break upon the shore and lose their power. The conspiracy theory would be spread, early on mostly from church pulpits and later on mostly by newspapers, and it would gain some purchase but quickly weaken when people realized that the idea was impossible and stupid. Things happened more slowly in the old days. People would get a bit carried away worrying about Masons because the pastor shouted about it for six weeks in a row, and then people would realize that there were a lot of Masons in their city, and they were good men, and after all, George Washington was a Mason, so what's the beef? It's not that simple anymore.
The Buildup to Clinical Paranoia
We live in a world where paranoia has become a tool of our oppressors. Paranoia has become supercharged through its constant encouragement by social media (like Facebook and Twitter), dedicated propaganda “news” outlets (like Fox News, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller), and by our politicians themselves. Mostly, but not exclusively, it is the Republicans who appeal directly to the latent paranoia of Americans by their constant lies (“there is no money for Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, because of Obama or something”), the spreading of false rumors (“the Democrats are trying to turn our country into some kind of socialist Venezuela, they want to shred our Constitution, open our borders to MS-13 rapists, and destroy our values!”), and by demonizing the free press, the Democratic Party, and even our judicial and law enforcement establishment (the FBI, the CIA, and the courts, for having the nerve to lawfully restrain Republican overreach).
This new epidemic of mass hysteria began almost comically with the massive Republican opposition to everything Obama. Not content to oppose every single one of President Obama's proposals, no matter how beneficial they might have been for the country, the Republicans moved into conspiracy territory:
- Obama wants to take your guns!
- Obama wants to turn over control of America to the U.N.!
- Obama is a radical socialist!
- Obama is not a real American!
- Obama was born in Kenya!
- Obama is a Muslim!
- Obama was raised and trained as a terrorist in Indonesia!
Ah, those were the good old days! It all seems so mild compared to the stuff that we are now bombarded with every day.
As it became more clear that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for president, the focus shifted to her:
- The Clinton Foundation!
- Vince Foster!
- She enabled her rapist husband!
None of that was true, and the untruth of it seemed to matter less and less. What was said about Obama, none of it was true. Same for Hillary, none of it was true. They were both thoroughly conventional right-center politicians. In the 1960s, they would both have been considered to be conservatives.
The 2016 race came down to Hillary v. Trump, and somehow Trump pulled out a squeaker. His victory was due mostly to behind the scenes machinations by Republicans (voter suppression in key states) and Russian operatives (mills turning out millions of pieces of fake-news and posting it all on Facebook, etc.). Now it is 2018, and the Republicans have the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives (thanks mostly to Gerrymandering), and a soon-to-increase majority on the Supreme Court.
Have the Republicans all settled in and gotten quietly to work on their agenda? Why no, they haven't. They've been ripping into each other like a pack of wild hyenas and blaming all of the chaos on everybody outside of their small circle of friends.
Let me take a silent moment in memory of the once great Democratic Party. May their souls, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, rest in peace, amen.
But as hapless as our current Democrats are, as incapable as they seem to be of doing anything at all, the Republicans are afraid of them. Afraid because the voters seem to be noticing that Trump is a fool who is just shitting on all of the rugs and the Republicans, holding all of the levers of power, can only seem to agree on one thing: giant tax cuts for the rich that will bust the annual budget deficit wide open. Oh, two things, eliminating social programs that everyone loves, or at least cutting them to the bone and rendering them useless to average Americans. Yes, amazingly, people seem to be noticing. How are the Republicans responding?
Are the Republicans coming forward with bills and programs that would appeal to Americans in general, maybe to the not too prosperous among us, or perhaps to the slowly dying middle-class? No, they are not doing that. Their plan seems to be to scare voters into voting for them by telling wild, paranoid lies about the Democrats:
- The Democrats want to retake power by any means so that they can do that Venezuela thing!
- The Democrats want to kill their enemies!
- The Democrats are a bunch of wild spenders who will send America straight off a cliff by paying for education and health care!
- All kinds of killing! Republican senators are receiving death threats! Someone wants to kill Brett Kavanaugh's daughters!
Of course, it all seems to be working very well for the Republicans.
Meanwhile, Back at the White House
Trump is in his version of heaven, except that the furnishings at the White House do not align with his incredible lack of taste.
The hate groups; the lies; the wild, self-aggrandizing exaggerations; his own paranoia; the counterproductive trade war; the obvious Putin connection; the long-standing gangster/oligarch connections; the self-dealing; the open and continuous racism; the tragic destruction of every democratic institution in sight, starting with the Federal Agencies; his terrible appointments, whether they be judges or Agency heads or even his own legal team. It's a rapidly burning fire that spreads day by day.
And yet many people are actually buying the whole shit-show!
Not only the wacky fringe dwellers, the Info-Wars of the media landscape. They buy it all, and add their own wild fun to the mix. There is a child sex colony on Mars, run by, of course, Democratic politicians! The Democrats are so desperate to make America a Norte Americano Venezuelan shit-hole that they have contacted actual demons from another dimension and invited them to come and make America their home! Oh! Think of the poor children!
Not only the Religious Right, who will pay any price to accomplish their dual goals, which are to retain and enhance their power and influence and to overturn Roe v. Wade. As long as their bottom lines are expanding, they'll put up with any kind of unchristian behavior from people further up the money stream.
No, the believers in all of this mess that really surprise and dishearten me are the otherwise reasonable, average American citizens, people with good heads on their shoulders and good educations who have worked quietly at responsible jobs all of their lives. I know a lot of people like that who have succumb to the paranoia. I've known some of them since we were children together. I like them!
These are people like those that I mentioned at the top of this essay, the people that I dealt with on my trip to America earlier this year. The normal, get-along, cheerful Americans, who work hard and go home to their families. People who are proud of their country, and their jobs, and their families, too. Just like I was at that stage of my working life. Just like I still am! Except for the vast political void that have now opened between us.
Many of these average Americans are still very reasonable, even when it comes to politics. Some of them don't like our current situation any better than I do. Many of them are as mad as I am when I see total lies shared around social media by oppressors who want to divide us and keep us angry at the wrong people while they steal our prosperity. I am not alone on my side of the void.
But a disturbing number of these reasonable Americans see photos of Professor Catherine Blasey Ford on Facebook, allegedly posing with George Soros, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Clinton, and they immediately, like Pavlov's dogs, start to foam at the mouth and post comments about how those filthy Democ-RATS are trying to ruin the life of a fine man like Judge Kavanaugh! The photos are, of course, fake. In a really disturbing development, there is now a lot of talk about “killing.” It is claimed, ridiculously, that the Democrats want to kill people; many of the paranoids talk about wanting to “kill” journalists, or Libtards, or Nancy Pelosi. It's frightening.
It's frightening because that's me they're talking about. Casual talk of killing people who think like I do is becoming commonplace. Those kinds of lists tend to grow, they take on a life of their own. Who knows? It could be me and people like me today, and it could spread to you and people like you tomorrow.
We wouldn't want that now, would we?