ANTI-MUSLIM “SENTIMENT” ROARS THROUGH THE LAND
IT’S NOTHING NEW IN ILLIBERAL AMERICA
Are you surprised, shocked, angry at The Donald’s latest “Muslims should be rounded up and gassed” remark? (He didn’t actually say this, but wait until next week.) Well you shouldn’t be. This demonizing of “the other” has a long, long history here in the world of U.S. politics dating back at least to the Civil War. But there’s no need to cast our eyes back so far into the dark depths of our past. We’ve been through this before. Many times. Let’s follow the path of recent history to trace the origins of The Donald’s xenophobic, demonizing, intemperate and basically un-American sentiments that The Donald is expressing to great popularity among that slice of the populace who are angry, disaffected and feel as if America is on the wrong track and only The Donald can right the direction of the ship of America that, to them, is foundering on the shoals of total destruction.
It was Ronald Reagan who fanned the always ready to burst into flames embers of this current round of intemperance with his “Cadillac Driving Welfare Queen” remarks about those who were on public assistance, Welfare, as it is generally known. The year was 1976 and while it was the media who coined the term after a speech in Chicago, this forty year old remark still resonates today. Recall, if you will, the flurry of media coverage a year ago over Surfer Dude buying lobster with Food Stamps (San Diego artist Jason Greenslate) that caused a tornado of media coverage sparked by Fox News’ “reporting” and was highlighted on every single conservative and mainstream media outlet across the land. Fact is, people who receive public assistance are the elderly, young children and the disabled though Medicare, Food Stamps and subsidized school lunch programs. Reagan’s remark sparked legislative changes to the Welfare System including Bill Clinton’s “Welfare to Work” requirements and the Republicans have proposed cuts to Welfare, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid year after year after year, so don’t think that non-fact-based rhetoric has no impact.
The election of Ronald Reagan (former President of the notoriously liberal Screen Actor’s Guild) coincided with the commencement of the “Culture Wars” that continue down to this day and is most evident in the demonization of all things liberal. Reagan’s fundamental political program centered around a few pithy slogans: “Government is Bad.” “Personal Responsibility and Individual Initiative.” “The Private Sector Can Do It Better.” “Government Regulation Destroys Jobs.” “Unfettered Free Markets Drive the Economy.” Do these slogans sound familiar? They should because every single one of the original 14 and the current 10 Republican candidates running for the Office of the President spout them ad nauseum today.
Then there is the demonization of Liberals and Liberalism that has pretty much paralleled the demonization of public assistance rhetoric. Used to be that being liberal meant you shared a concern for those less well off than you, were compassionate, inclusive and believed that as a society we could collectively improve America to align it more closely with the sentiments of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and ensure that the rights and privileges enshrined in our Constitution applied to everyone regardless of race, creed, religion, national original or wealth. In fact, here’s the Webster’s Dictionary definition of “liberal:”
LIBERAL; “of, relating to, or based on the liberal arts, marked by generosity: openhanded <a liberal giver; given or provided in a generous and openhanded way ; believing that government should be active in supporting social and political change : relating to or supporting political liberalism; not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving that are not traditional or widely accepted.”
Now if you watch Fox News for more than five minutes on any day of the week or listen to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage on their afternoon radio hate-casts for half a minute you will inevitably hear that liberals are immoral, irresponsible, dangerous, degenerate and roughly the equivalent of Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. If I had a dime for every time Rush equates “Liberal = Communist” I’d be a wealthy man again. (If you doubt me, just tune into Rush’s radio show at noon or visit his web site: www.RushLimbaugh.com. )
Some of you may be too young to remember the perennial Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich and the Congressional “Young Turks” back in the Clinton Administration whose “One Thing Considered” tirade against NPR’s long running afternoon show “All Things Considered” caused a huge drop in Federal funding for this liberal media outlet. Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract With America” (I called it Newt’s “Contract ON America”) continued the attack on liberal policies and outlined the basic conservative agenda that still reigns in conservative circles and is the conservative agenda today in 2015. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract_with_America) It included the following provision that was enacted by Congress but vetoed by Bill Clinton:
“An act to discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by reforming and cutting cash welfare and related programs. This would be achieved by prohibiting welfare to mothers under 18 years of age, denying increased Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for additional children while on welfare, and enacting a two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.”
As far as I can see, there is absolutely no illuminating logic to this “cutting funds” formula for preventing teenage pregnancies.
And let’s not forget Republican Senator from North Carolina Jessie Helm’s (who voted against both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act) famous attacks on the one of the nation’s premier cultural organizations, the National Endowment for the Arts back in 1989.
On information supplied by the conservative Christian American Family Association, (still around and listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) condemned Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" in an NEA-funded exhibition at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Serrano’s provocative exhibit was a protest against the demonizing homophobic tirades of Catholic Church leaders directed against people (mainly gay men) who had contracted the HIV-AIDS virus. For nearly a decade the NEA had to fight Congressional cuts to its budget.
And more recently was the claim by Fox News, Michael and Rush that during the summer of 2013 the unaccompanied migrant children from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, were composed of “drug dealers, criminals, thugs and rapists” which was totally fact-less (I checked) yet went unchallenged by our so-called liberal mainstream media. So is anyone surprised that The Donald called Mexicans flooding the United States (they aren’t by the way since the number of legal and/or illegal Mexicans coming to the U.S. is virtually nil) the same - criminals, rapists - and apparently got away with it? So is it any wonder that given the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino that these horrific incidents were met by Trump’s call for banning Muslims from entering the country? I think not.
And let’s remember than while the media seems fixated on all the right wingers and their irrationality, the Tea Party- the quintessential bell weather of conservative politics - has never had the support of more than a quarter of the U.S. population although among Republicans they still have the support of 42% of conservative Republicans. Support among the general population today is at 17%. But for some reason, we are stuck following every single irrational utterance, every single foolish proposal, every single fact-less meme, every single bigoted act by this 17% of the U.S. population.
The war on liberalism has been a roaring success.
The war on liberalism has been a roaring success.
If you are surprised, shocked, or angry over Trump’s latest remarks then you haven’t been listening to or maybe not understanding what’s been going on here since 1980. Demonization has become the framework for virtually every public issue we discuss for Republicans, the Freedom Caucus and the Tea Party. This demonization of everything liberal or not uber-conservative didn’t start with the election of the Black Man, Barack Obama; the roots of this dangerous trend can be traced directly back three decades ago when the Culture Wars began. They continue today and Donald Trump is only the latest manifestation of the illiberal trend we’ve been under for the past thirty-five years.
Oh, and on a practical note: Don’t forget Trump’s call for preventing Muslims from entering the United States is exactly what ISIS wants. Their recruitment figures will undoubtedly jump after this.
Have a good day.