Threatening as they are, the fires burning around Los Angeles are not the most dangerous flames being fanned by hot hair in America these days.
"There is a coup going on," Glenn Beck lied to his radio followers on Monday. "There is a stealing of America, and the way it . . . has been done [is] through the -- the guise of an election."
Mr. Beck's incendiary and absurd charge is but one among a growing cacophony of extremely dangerous, radical nonsense being regurgitated by right-wing commentators, with the active or passive complicity of leading Republicans. They are playing with fire, and if they do not cease, someone -- or, quite possibly, the entire nation -- is going to get burned.
It is time for every voice of decency in America to be raised in unison to say firmly and unequivocally: "STOP!"
The venom being spewed against President Obama by Republicans and the screaming heads of Faux News and talk radio -- "Communist!" "Nazi!" "Death Panels!" "He's a secret Muslim!" "He's not an American citizen!" "He wants to kill Grandma!" "Take OUR country back!" -- goes far beyond the bounds of political debate. So does the carrying of firearms to appearances by the President.
Do these wild-eyed people on the right really want to reap what they are sowing?
What they are sowing is unmistakable. If you lead people to think that a black Communist-Nazi-Muslim-racist President who is not an American citizen and wants to euthanize old people has stolen America by taking power through a coup, you cannot fail to know what you are saying to your gullible listeners.
Nor can you fail to know what it is going to lead some of them to think it is their patriotic duty to do.
We've Been Down This Road Before
The nation has been down this road before. We were reminded of that sad truth by the recent death of Sen. Edward Kennedy and the recountings of his brothers' assassinations that it brought forth. Public discourse was polluted by the hate-filled rhetoric of extremists in the 1960s, and many leading politicians of the era endorsed that extremism. Even after the first Kennedy assassination, 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater famously spoke out in defense of extremism.
"We're heading into nut country today," President John F. Kennedy said to his wife on the morning of November 22, 1963, as he showed her an ad, bordered in the black of a funeral announcement, that the John Birch Society had placed in the Dallas Morning News, indicating that the Kennedys were pro-communist. A few weeks before, right-wing retired General Edwin A. Walker of Dallas had proclaimed, "Kennedy is a liability to the Free World."
Three years earlier, the first violent, hate-filled political mob of the Sixties had appeared in Dallas. It was not composed of scruffy young left-wing anti-Establishment "reds"; it was made up of "mature," neatly dressed "conservative" women of the Texas Establishment who wore red-white-and-blue. Democratic vice presidential nominee Lyndon Johnson and his wife were making a stop in Dallas near the end of the 1960 campaign. Holding a sign reading "LBJ SOLD OUT TO YANKEE SOCIALISTS," Republican Congressman Bruce Alger of Dallas led a "mink coat mob" of ladies of the right, their faces filled with primal rage, as they encircled their own state's Senator and his wife, jeering and cursing and spitting in Lady Bird's face.
Cheering an Assassination
Nor should it be forgotten that a sizable number of people, young as well -- or as un well -- as old, greeted the assassination of President Kennedy as a cause for celebration. In numerous white schools in Mississippi, for example, children are said to have cheered at the news. In some instances, their teachers led the cheering. I arrived in Mississippi ten years after the assassination, and in my first years of teaching at the college level here many of my students related to me such incidents in their classrooms on November 22, 1963.