PART TWO: HOW THE PORTRAYAL OF LIBERAL AMERICANS BY THE RIGHT WING MEDIA REFERENCES THE JIM CROW MOVEMENT
DECADES OF ANTI-LIBERALISM BY REPUBLICANS, CONSERVATIVES AND THE RIGHT WING HAVE MARGINALIZED US. IT'S A FAMILIAR STORY.
Let me offer a few examples of what I mean by the demeaning and diminishment of liberals and liberal ideals that has become an “atmosphere” creeping across the land like a killer virus until it has become a pervasive theme in America.
In 1964, returning from a summer family vacation to visit Grandparents in Florida, the car radio broadcast the news that there had been a riot in my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. I was shocked. Not staid, prosperous Rochester, the home of Eastman Kodak. It just couldn’t be. It wasn’t the first urban riot and as riots go it wasn’t all that big. But that same year Philadelphia and Harlem also exploded in violence but it wasn’t until 1965 that the granddaddy of the early riots occurred in Watts, Los Angeles. From then on there were riots each summer until the firestorm of urban riots erupted in Washington, D.C, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, and a dozen more cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The media consistently decried the lawlessness of African Americans, decried the fact that they were “burning their own neighborhoods” and were “unappreciative of their progress.”
The destruction ravaged on urban cities was enormous. During the six days of rioting here in Washington in April 1968, some 40 city blocks in three different neighborhoods were torched, hundreds of buildings gutted and millions of dollars in property losses were tallied. Twelve people died as well. Other cities experienced the same.
Fast forward to our recent experiences with the Baltimore, Ferguson, Charlotte, Berkley, Oakland, etc. protests (most the result of police brutality and/or police shootings) and let’s not forget the Occupy Wall Street protests. In Baltimore as a result of the death of Freddie Gray while being transported in a police van, people took to the streets in protest on two occasions with the resulting damage of buildings valued at a loss of $13 million.
In Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Michael Brown at the hands of the police caused rioting over several days that resulted in the destruction of 25 businesses with an associated cost of $4.6 million.
Taken together, however, all the damage from riots over the past decade probably total far less than a single urban riot in one of our major cities that occurred back in 1968. The right wing outcry over the “violent, lawless, traitorous” liberals this time around washed over the airways each time protests devolved into violence and always accompanied with laudatory praise of the police. But I can’t recall ever hearing anything about the longstanding complaints by African Americans about police brutality and discriminatory and unwarranted arrests and other acts against them at the hands of the “protect and serve” folks. In Ferguson, a Department of Justice report cataloged both the breadth of such practises and their long history.
There was a media acknowledgement that accompanied the urban riots of the 1960’s – African Americans were not yet full members of American society, discrimination and racism against them was rampant throughout the country and inequality was a major national problem. It was a common counterpoint to the violence, giving reason to why the violence was happening. Today, we don’t hear these kinds of “explanations” (background or history, let’s say) all that much. Protesters are simply described as wanton, violent thugs running amuck in “our” streets destroying America. (Sound familiar?) Protesters are simply demonized in the media. Some other more esoteric examples: Americans who praise unions – the backbone of post World War II American prosperity - are decried as Socialists or Communists. Praise Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as trying to give poor Venezuelans a place in an oligarchic society and you are derided as a Commie loving dunderhead undeserving of being an American. Extol the virtues of multi-culturalism and you’re guilty of “One Worldism” another cockamamie term the right wingers have invented to slime liberals.
I can’t leave this topic – urban riots - without referencing the Occupy Wall Street protests that sparked the most vitriolic conservative backlash since the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization in 1999. The OWS protests took place in public parks for the most part so “damages” were fairly minor (trampled grass, broken benches, trash) as these things go. But one would have thought that national anarchy had broken out all across the country if you listened to the right wing commentary at the time, as I did. The demonstrators were described as dirty, unwashed, drug dealing, violent hippies who were disrespecting and destroying (there’s that term again!) not only public property but America as well. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.) The mainstream media also glommed onto this same theme if with less obvious vitriolic hatred. But if you think about it, it was the first time that income inequality and the vast gulf between the uber-rich and the rest of us had been even mentioned as an issue. In fact, ever mentioned at all in any context whatsoever. Still, there was no media pushback, no defense that the OWS folks were exercising their Constitutional right to protest, exercising free speech, freedom of assembly and redress or far more important than broken benches and trampled grass, the fact that the OWS protesters had actually publicized one of the country’s biggest problems for the first time and which has since become a standard placeholder in the top five issues facing America today.
The right wing has the nasty but effective habit of turning the ideals that we liberals and progressive hold dear into un-patriotic, un-American, and undemocratic evils. Equality? It’s been turned into a anti-liberal meme that we liberals care more about minority African Americans, Latinos, Asians, LGBT, etc. than we care about ordinary, hard-working, truly patriotic majority Americans (read: White Americans). We are, therefore, unpatriotic traitors. Political Correctness? A term coined to disparage folks from uttering public, racist epithets like nigger, kike, greaser, chink, slope-eyed, rag-head, mick, oreo, Paki, etc. has also been weaponized by the right wing and is constantly used against us proving that we are namby pamby snowflakes. Justice Equality? Another liberal ideal – treating everyone equally under the law – is now an anti-liberal theme to smear us as being weak on crime, hugging murderers and rapists and being uncaring of the victims of crime. Helping the Disadvantaged? This old fashioned Christian ideal, is also a liberal ideal. But the current atmosphere is one of “if you’re poor, you’re lazy” and we see and hear this anti-liberal rant daily and also see it reflected in public policy like the Trump/Ryan Deathcare Bills.
So just in case you missed it, the right wing has been enormously successful in weaponizing fundamental liberal ideals and using them against us. The have turned such liberal ideals as compassion, understanding, equality and the fundamental dignity of all human beings into evil, America destroying themes. You can listen to 15 minutes of Rush Limbaugh any day of the week and you will hear one or more of our cherished ideals being hurled against us, being used as weapons against us.
And the media, as liberal as Trump thinks it is, aids and abets this national anti-liberal atmosphere. Perhaps through un-awareness or ignorance, they too very effectively promote this pervasive anti-liberal narrative. Note, if you will, the reaction of the media to Kathy Griffin’s mock beheading of Trump: immediate, universal condemnation and vilification. Or Bill Maher’s rather cogent and appropriate remark about “House Niggers” in the context of the conversation in which it was voiced. Again, immediate, total condemnation by the entire media. Of course, Bill is no stranger to being vilified. ABC dropped him and his “Politically Incorrect” television show after he criticized Bush. Same with the Dixie Chicks who were banned from radio after they criticized Bush. But today you can still find countless pictures on the Internet of Barack Obama being hung by the neck from a tree, being burned alive at the stake, as an African bush baby and literally countless other such demeaning and derisive themes. Against him and his family. They have not been taken down. Remember the media outrage against such atrocious and hateful posts? No you don’t because there wasn’t any. No apologies were demanded by the media or anyone else. No immediate take-down of the offensive posts. At best they were “pooh-poohed” as indelicate rather than the hate messages that they actually are. The fake, offensive and libelous Facebook Pizzagate page that tags Hillary Clinton and John Podesta as organizers of a child sex ring still remains. Quite a different reaction by the media than against the Griffin/Maher incidents. And this is what I mean about the anti-liberal atmosphere that has insidiously and stealthily poisoned the American atmosphere against us liberals. Apparently in today’s America it’s perfectly okay for conservatives to post such hateful filth – Why? Free Speech is the cry - but it’s definitely not okay for liberals to do the same.
Take the following all too common example of just how insidious and pervasive is the casual demeaning of "the other":
Will this guy suffer any consequences? Will Alex Jones suffer any backlash for telling his viewers that we are about to go engage in armed warfare against conservatives? No. How about Rush who also says that we liberals are undertaking a secret coup d’état against Trump, Rush and all the “real Americans” in the country? Think he’ll be subjected to any consequences? No, of course not. But liberals who say anything against Trump and the right wing gets all aflutter and indignant and an apology is demanded. And granted. We need to stop apologizing. We have nothing to apologize for.
This is what I mean by a pervasive anti-liberal “atmosphere.” It’s something that is so common, so commonplace an everyday occurrence, this bashing of liberals and liberal ideals, that it’s hardly noticed. It goes unremarked and unreported. Only when some Breaking News incident committed by a liberal like the recent shooting of Anthony Scalise and other Republicans by an avowed Democrat angry at Trump, does the frustration of liberals in the face of decades of liberal bashing, even emerge as a problem. And, of course, in this case it was cast as an undeniably negative problem. Watching the media coverage after this shooting, one would have gotten the impressions that hundreds of liberals are waiting in the bushes all around the country just itching to kill all those who criticize us liberals. Never, however, are conservatives called out when they commit hate crimes targeting liberals. Those that do make the news are are characterized as one-off nutjobs or common criminals not a consequence of a more general campaign against liberals and liberalism. One only needs to recall Dylann Roof’s slaughter of nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, as an admitted attempt to start a race war as an indication of how right wing atrocities are never attributed to the hateful rhetoric and calls to violence by the Alex Jones and Nazi supremacists types that populate the country for more than three days. And nothing is every done about it.
This post was prompted in an immediate sense since I had just watched Netflix’s documentary “13th” and how African Americans have been criminalized in our society in order to justify police violence, mass incarceration, lynchings, segregation, racism and untold other atrocities against them. Again, I do not begin to posit that the current campaign of anti-liberalism and anti-progressivism is anything like that which has been perpetrated against African Americans since the Civil War. What does impress me, however, is the tactics used by the right wing to demonize us are pretty much the same as those used to demean and disenfranchise African Americans. They are in many ways the very same tactics that have been used against African Americans to de-humanize and render powerless this American community. This is precisely what the right wing is doing to us liberals on a national scale. Our plight is not as dire as that of African Americans by any stretch of the imagination. Yours or mine. But it does occur to me that unless we liberals regain some footing in determining the direction of America, re-capturing our own narrative in society, defining our own terms rather than letting them be defined by conservatives and right wingers, we cannot help ourselves much less assist our brothers and sister African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the discarded in our continuing fight for equality and freedom. This freedom also includes the freedom from vilification and demonization that is being perpetrated by the likes of Rush and Alex Jones not to mention House Speaker Paul Ryan.
We, us liberals and progressives, must wake up to the reality that we are being diminished daily. That we are being marginalized. That our rights are being taken away from us. Stripped of our power in American society. Silencing our voices in our nation’s discussions. The right wing can yell and rant about how we liberals are destroying America but the facts, let’s say legislative facts, say otherwise as I’ve noted in my posts before. The longer this continues, the longer we allow these corrosive anti-liberal narratives to continue, the greater is the threat of violence against us. We will continue to be seen as powerless and unable to defend ourselves from attack. Right now it’s only verbal attacks for the most part but American history is replete with examples of how the demeaning of other groups – African Americans, Muslims, LGBT’s, Japanese, Irish, Italians and most egregiously, Native Americans, have been subjected to both disenfranchisement and violence. Each of these groups was demeaned, diminished and characterized as not deserving of the rights and privileges of being an American for a broad palate of reasons from brain size, IQ levels to native, genetic savagery. If we don’t respond soon, the very same thing can happen to us.
The right wing has declared war on us liberals and progressives and they seem incapable of seeing the damage they are doing not only to us, but to America. There is no reason to over think or over analyze our positions, our ideals, or question our hopes for America. As Senator John McCain, a Republican, so sublimely voiced in his post-debate reasoning for voting “NO” on the Senate health care bill: “It was just wrong.” It’s all the analysis needed.
Resisting Trump is our current battle and we must continue this fight. But the war we are engaged in, whether conscious of it or not, is much larger, much more important, much more vital to the recovery and rejuvenation of American’s very soul. The very future of America, what it stands for, the American values and American ideals that we stand for, what constitutes the American Dream now so faded and diminished by three decades of cultural warfare, fear mongering, identity politics, “other” bashing, xenophobia, and all the other “themes” that conservatives use to demean us, have thoroughly poisoned the American atmosphere against us. It must be stopped. We must stop it. No one is going to do it for us. This is the long, hard work that lies ahead of us. This is our cause.