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WTF?: A Letter to Appalled, Puzzled European Friends

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By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

Dear Wolfgang and Jacqueline:

Your recent email, wondering "what the f--- is going on" these days, questioning whether we Americans have taken "more than your usual amount of stupid pills," is well deserving of a considered response.

How is it possible, you ask, that the very rightwing party whose policies helped create the current mess may very well take control of the House of Representatives and conceivably the Senate as well, in the upcoming November elections? "Is the U.S.A. experiencing some kind of death wish? Are we in Europe witnessing the paroxysms of a failing democracy, and a failing empire? Will the flat-Earth Know Nothings really take over in America?" Good questions all.

It's not easy to explain to foreigners what's happening here and what to do about it. I do know that in too many societies, for a relatively brief period of time, a contagious irrationality seems to spread dangerous nonsense in the polity; moral moorings and common sense fly out the window. It's happened in your countries: the French right now ethnically-cleansing themselves of the Roma/Gypsy peoples, for example, or the Holocaust in Germany in the 1930-40s. But I'll have a go at some explanations, and you and your families and friends in those countries can tell me whether my analyses make any sense.

THE IDEOLOGICAL DIVIDE

To understand our current and dangerous political circus requires a quick romp through the historical context:

The first thing to understand is that what's happening today in American politics is not new. One could go back to the major philosophical splits amongst the Founding Fathers who, because of ideological fervor, were at each others' throats over how to distribute power. Or we could go back to the "robber barons" era of the late 19th century, when capitalist greed and industrial might, both basically unregulated at the time, ran roughshod over the economy and country. That unrestricted "free-market" philosophy helped lead eventually to the Great Depression and the resulting major social correctives of FDR and the Democrats in the 1930s-1940s.

But for our purposes here, let's pick up the thread in 1964 when Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was the Republican candidate for president.

EXTREMISM AS A CHERISHED VALUE

For the first time in the modern era, extremism and incitements to violence were given political cover as they were introduced by a presidential candidate into American's civic bloodstream. "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," said Goldwater, to cheering GOP convention delegates.

The corporate/fundamentalist forces behind the Goldwater candidacy knew their candidate would not win, could not win, in a country still deeply appreciative of popular liberal policies coming out of post-World War II reconstruction in the 1950s.

The aim of these wealthy forces was to purge the GOP of its moderate voices and create an ideologically pure, HardRight party that through education, political activism and constant agitprop would eventually triumph over "decadent liberalism."

Clearly, they were thinking long term, and it paid off: Ronald Reagan's victory came 16 years later, in 1980. How did they do it?

BUYING THEIR WAY TO VICTORY

In the years after the Goldwater debacle, billionaire conservative tycoons bought up mass-media outlets -- book-publishing firms, newspapers, cable news networks, etc. They funded their own think tanks, with their in-house academic types churning out intellectual-sounding arguments. They supported with millions of dollars rightwing student groups on college campuses. They sponsored how-to-win-election workshops for potential candidates. They donated huge amounts to centrist news networks, such as PBS (look at who supports "The News Hour" these days: Chevron, Pacific Life Insurance, Archer Daniels Midlands, et al.), to help dilute the tenor of objective journalism.

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www.crisispapers.org

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
 
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Bernie, you did something good for me once, that y... by Ned Lud on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 9:24:44 AM
that there are too damned many of us, ignorance is... by Daniel Geery on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 10:18:28 AM
also not understand the American progressive left ... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 10:58:55 AM
He has continued every policy with minuscule excep... by Adam Smith on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:40:08 AM
response. Progressive news agencies in the US have... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:58:47 AM
And where would these be? A progressive news agenc... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 1:35:24 PM
There are a ton of US Progressive news agencies. Y... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:19:24 PM
Which among the ones you state are news sources or... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 4:15:05 PM
insurance rates and deductibles are going up every... by Lynne Kringler on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:19:26 PM
but probably have not read the bill and don't even... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:46:59 PM
it.The Obama Health Care plan provides caps and ta... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 4:07:45 PM
Politifact.orgObama signs executive order on tortu... by Lynne Kringler on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 2:44:38 PM
The loophole in torture.And I probably don't need ... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:09:25 PM
treatment of anyone under Obama. It is a court cas... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:23:47 PM
That he has kept the policies of bush and the repu... by Lynne Kringler on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:04:28 PM
... we're not seeing a large number of families c... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:22:12 PM
So now, accordoing to you, it is torture if we han... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:29:31 PM
You are disputing facts with your opinions. You're... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:02:05 PM
dont say what you would like them to say.Nice inap... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:24:06 PM
This doesn't exist in the article?Azar's attorneys... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 7:23:10 PM
"Torture by proxy?" If you don't torture, you don... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:23:58 PM
Yes Falcon, and masterbation is the same as adulte... by Lynne Kringler on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:25:44 AM
Mostly to point to some constructive approach so t... by BFalcon on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 7:45:36 AM
Over the years I kept reading, with disbelief, all... by Stefan Thiesen on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:43:45 AM
there is something about the progressive left here... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 12:20:20 PM
But at least part of the reason these worthy candi... by Adam Smith on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 1:23:54 PM
That is definitely not the issue here.... by Steven Leser on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:07:41 AM
"I suggested it, but he would not do it" - probabl... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:43:02 PM
care? Do they understand that, in our system, the... by Jill Herendeen on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 1:41:10 PM
By now the super rich shiuld understand that th... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:09:59 AM
I feel a bit offended. Also I do not consider your... by Stefan Thiesen on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:36:58 AM
Isn't Germany also sending back Roma? How easy is ... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:58:38 PM
A friend of mine who recently emmigrated to the US... by Stefan Thiesen on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 11:52:16 AM
The child falls off the swing, and the mother call... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 1:53:34 PM
The Obameter ScorecardPromise Kept 122 Compromise ... by Lynne Kringler on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 2:53:36 PM
The O'Hoovahmeter ScorecardPromise Kept 4 Compromi... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:30:33 PM
Your's come from the voices talking to you in your... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 3:47:43 PM
Voice 1: The voices in my head are rational.Voice ... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 4:36:30 PM
I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed ... by Lynne Kringler on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 4:36:17 PM
...until you go back up and tell me why a few tort... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:25:35 PM
Obama. All of your attempts have been thoroughly d... by Steven Leser on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:10:35 AM
If I were trying to explain our situation to Europ... by Perry Logan on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 2:56:03 PM
Because of the system, even if you are unhappy wit... by BFalcon on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 9:33:26 AM
over the past thirty years--keep presenting only c... by Jill Herendeen on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 1:36:31 PM
We shifted right since uninformed voters liked "sm... by BFalcon on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 2:10:31 PM
and split the (non-Republican) vote.I personally d... by Jill Herendeen on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 8:58:47 AM
First, of course, when I talked about uninformed v... by BFalcon on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 11:12:36 AM
We shifted right since uninformed voters liked "sm... by BFalcon on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 2:10:33 PM
.............. one person who voices opppsition to... by Robert P. Philipps on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:23:55 PM
In virtually every Democratic and Progressive webs... by Steven Leser on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:29:36 PM
.......with only 3% of the populace thinking it's ... by Robert P. Philipps on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 5:56:33 PM
I'll vote for the antiwar candidate. ... by phidipidese on Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010 at 6:54:58 PM
not to mention Neverneverland.Stefan, again, if yo... by Steven Leser on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:17:14 AM
think it is as important as you do doesnt mean the... by Steven Leser on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:15:19 AM
........what you have seen in the way of dem adver... by Robert P. Philipps on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 11:05:17 AM
If you are an one issue person and that is war, th... by Lynne Kringler on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:45:49 AM
..........Ms. Kringler, for your comment which, I ... by Robert P. Philipps on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 12:07:38 PM
the fact that there have been many changes for the... by Lynne Kringler on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 2:41:50 PM
You stated in your previous comment that you had m... by Robert P. Philipps on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 6:14:31 PM
That it is tragic that otherwise nice people want ... by BFalcon on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 8:18:48 AM
is this. Although I am not a very religious man I ... by Allen Oliver on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 12:37:53 PM
....that is exactly my point. There has been an ev... by Robert P. Philipps on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 1:04:54 PM
and hope that when you voted "For those who would ... by BFalcon on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 10:14:01 AM
...............you correctly? Like it's okay to t... by Robert P. Philipps on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 5:53:58 PM
It is not OK to treat us like dummies, but if we a... by BFalcon on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 6:15:38 PM
for starters, the WSW web site, and the article wr... by Robert P. Philipps on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 9:40:58 PM
the dems will definately lose the house and possib... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:23:33 AM
And it is not a label. It serves the purpose of se... by BFalcon on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 9:20:34 AM
may hurt but it is easier to deal with than lies, ... by Allen Oliver on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 11:43:22 AM
Robert,Much is lost in posting instead of talking ... by Lynne Kringler on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 4:56:06 PM
..... I respect and applaud your efforts at unders... by Robert P. Philipps on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 9:57:22 PM
robert,Did you really vote for Obama? Well, if you... by Lynne Kringler on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 1:00:01 AM
.......Yes I did vote for Obama. Reluctantly. I ... by Robert P. Philipps on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 12:46:37 PM
If you can do something to inform and educate some... by BFalcon on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 5:14:51 PM
For a moment, let us say this debate were about re... by phidipidese on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 1:51:16 PM
of the administration and at least once or twice t... by Steven Leser on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 2:36:25 PM
.......and your point is? Mr. Leser, with all due... by Robert P. Philipps on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 4:56:35 PM
against it in my blog. Where were you?... by Steven Leser on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 5:10:54 PM
.......writing "Thank You" letters to those, like ... by Robert P. Philipps on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 5:21:05 PM
............Mr. Leser. I have become too much the... by Robert P. Philipps on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 11:19:27 PM
until less than a week into theground troops enter... by Lynne Kringler on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 4:53:18 PM
I think you were snuggling Sarkosy's bottom.... by phidipidese on Saturday, Oct 23, 2010 at 12:54:25 AM
Maybe you have room for one more?... by phidipidese on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 3:08:46 PM
24. S.AMDT.210 to S.CON.RES.18 To repeal the tax ... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:26:56 AM
Treaties Revoked by George W. Bush • The Biodiv... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:44:12 AM
MARIANA ISLANDS -- ABRAMOFF OVERCHARGED NORTHERN ... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:48:03 AM
Indictments, investigations and allegations of wro... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:56:49 AM
March 7, 2007 The verdict in the trial of Lew... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 1:08:19 AM
Letter sent to all senators: Started in answer t... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 1:19:49 AM
It was posted that dems are trying to scare you by... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 1:31:43 AM
Ms. Kringler, Mr. Falcon, I find myself unable to ... by Robert P. Philipps on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:18:28 PM
In addition, thank you Ms. Kringler, for all your ... by Robert P. Philipps on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 12:51:10 PM
The background wasn't just for you, we hear so man... by Lynne Kringler on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 10:06:01 PM
..........from what I have read on this site, that... by Robert P. Philipps on Monday, Oct 25, 2010 at 12:57:34 PM
and sure, in some cases, one group can be as bad a... by BFalcon on Sunday, Oct 24, 2010 at 11:56:08 PM
........I qualified my statement? Which statement... by Robert P. Philipps on Monday, Oct 25, 2010 at 2:29:29 PM
What I was questioning all the time is your action... by BFalcon on Monday, Oct 25, 2010 at 3:00:42 PM
.........and,I yours. There is nothing here to DE... by Robert P. Philipps on Monday, Oct 25, 2010 at 4:51:13 PM
And am glad that you shared your opinion. I respe... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Oct 26, 2010 at 11:14:20 AM
Phillips is dissappointed, and God knows he has ev... by Allen Oliver on Monday, Oct 25, 2010 at 9:03:38 PM
and I have nothing to add.... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Oct 26, 2010 at 11:01:56 AM