Economic Inequity, Manufactured Populism, and the Bigot-Whisperers of the Right

I was born, at slightly past the midpoint of the Twentieth Century, in the deep south city of Birmingham, Alabama — “The Heart of Dixie.” My earliest memories are of a time of societal upheaval and cultural trauma. At the time, as the world witnessed and history chronicles, Birmingham could be an ugly, mean place. My father, employed at the time as a freelance photo-journalist, would arrive home from work, his clothes redolent of tear gas, his adrenal system locked in overdrive, his mind reeling, trying to make sense of the brutality he witnessed, perpetrated by both city officials and ordinary citizens, transpiring on the streets of the city.

The print and media images transmitted from Birmingham shocked and baffled the nation as well. But there was a hidden calculus underpinning the architecture of institutionalized hatred of the Jim Crow south. The viciousness of Birmingham’s white underclass served the purpose of the ruling order. The city was controlled, in de facto colonial manner, by coal and steel barons whose seat of power was located up the Appalachian mountain chain in Pittsburgh, PA. The locals dubbed them the Big Mules. They resided in the lofty air up on Red Mountain; most everyone else dwelled down in the industrial smog. These social and economic inequities, perpetuated by exploitive labor practices, roiled Birmingham’s white men with resentment. If they asked for higher wages, they were told: “I can hire any n*gg*r off the street for half of what I pay you.” In the colonial model, all the big dollars flowed back to Pennsylvania, and economic rivalry and state-codified delusions of racial entitlement vis-à-vis Jim Crow Laws was used to insure the working class white majority rage at the ruling elite remained displaced — their animus fixed on those with even less power and economic security than themselves. This was the poisoned cultural milieu, wherein George Wallace’s “segregation today … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever” demagogic dirt kicking caused the embedded rage of the white working class to pour forth like fire ants from a trampled bed.

In a similar manner, manufactured controversies such as the gay marriage and gays in the military dust-ups of the present time have little to do with gays nor marriage nor the military. These issues are served as red meat to arouse the passions — and loosen the purse strings — of the fear-driven, status quo-enabling, confused souls residing at the center of the black spleen of the Republican ideological base.

Although, as a rule, the right’s lies and displacements are most effective when liberals offer working people only bromides, platitudes, and lectures on propriety and good taste. Obama and the Democrats, time and time again, present demagogues with an opening the size of the cracks in Glen Beck’s gray matter. Hence, the bigot-whisperers of the right are provided with a void that they can seed with false narratives; wherein, they are given free reign to cloud the air and clog the airwaves with palaver about fifth columnist threats from terrorist-toady mosque builders and gays in uniform undermining moral in the ranks by belting out show tunes in foxholes and impromptu shower stall instruction on the art of hand to hand sodomy.

Cultures are organic in nature. Combine the elements of the scorched earth policies of neoliberal capitalism, its austerity cuts and downsizing, plus the hybrid seeds of the consumer age — and what alien foliage will rise from the degraded soil — fields of right-wing astroturf. Add: industrial strength fertilizer. And see how our garden grows, with: Glen Beck and Sarah Palin — the mutant seed sprouted Chia Pets of corporate oligarchy.

Yet the idea of Beck and Palin leading a populist, pitchforks and torches style uprising in the US is sheer fantasy. Most Americans wouldn’t rally en mass unless they could bring their couches with them. It would look like The Prague Spring but held in a Rooms to Go showroom.

The recent demonstrations, in Washington, DC, attended by the ranks of the chronically discontent right, are about as populist as a vintage Soviet-era May Day parade was a celebration of the proletarian masses. By the informal design of our present oligarchs and the self-referential nature of the corporate owned media, US citizens have the right to say almost anything that is on their minds, as long as it has little to no effect on the status quo. If there was ever a mass movement that effectively challenged the nation’s massive class inequity and threatened to reign in the excesses of the National Security State, it would be shut down faster than an open air, live sex show in the middle of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Moreover, the mid-life snit-fest engendered by the fading political power of the country’s white, middle class majority, as was the case with the racial resentment of the white underclass of my native Birmingham, serves the agenda of the moneyed elite. And its goals (which its rank and file seem ill-equipped to define i.e., vague resentments and inarticulate rage hardly constitutes an agenda for societal transformation and governmental reform) are equally as self-defeating in their ramifications for debt-beleaguered, economic security-bereft working people as were the racist displacement of rage embraced and perpetuated by the exploited, working class, white majority of the Jim Crow south. Working and middle class Republicans agitating for lower taxes for the wealthy is as silly as gaunt peasants, clutching torches and welding pitchforks, besieging Louis XVI’s palace at Versailles, demanding their bread rations be cut so that the royal court could enjoy larger and more lavish feasts.

Part of the irrational fear arising from economically forsaken members of the white laboring class toward President Obama is informed by race. Another aspect of it is more inchoate, as evanescent as the nature of the man himself.

Obama seems no more real, nor connected with the concerns of their lives than any other ghost in the media hologram. But Glen Beck’s flutterhead histrionics reflect their desperation. This is the seduction of any garden-variety demagogue: Although their narrative is fictive, even malevolent in its deception, the emotional tone resonates with the deep-seated, helpless rage and nebulous night terrors of their audience. Beck’s community theatre actor’s ability to cry on cue and work himself into a lather of outrage and anguish reflects the inner desperation of his audience’s experiences regarding their powerlessness before the crushing, impersonal complexity of events.

My childhood, in Birmingham, bestowed the knowledge: do not underestimate the danger of ignorant, angry people in large groups.

The feelings of drift of contemporary life in the US: its media empires — with content as weightless in meaning and resonance as the electrons that transport the images, and the internet’s pixel fiefdoms, in combination with the ad hoc, fast-buck-driven architecture of suburban nothingvilles gives present day life in the US a flimsy, provisional quality. President Obama’s aura of weightlessness, his quality of emotional remoteness, only exacerbates the nebulous sense of unease on the irrational right who think with their guts not their minds. Conversely, guns feel real to these adrift denizens of the nation’s spleenland. The weapon’s weight in their hands wards off their unfocused sense of dread; its heft, momentarily, mitigates the unease inherent in feelings of being helplessly unmoored … Looking down the precise beauty of its barrel distills hazy hatreds into identifiable targets. Momentarily, the ground feels solid beneath their feet. Hence, guns must be stockpiled; massive amounts of ammunition stored for ballast. The mystifying events of the era … so muffled by the white noise of uncertainty, must yield to something as clear and decisive as the crack of a rifle shot.

Human beings will never transcend being capable of dwelling in madness on a collective level. David Hare quotes Rebecca West, in the introduction to his play, The Secret Rapture:

“Only half of us is sane: only part of us loves … [desires] happiness, wants to die in peace … in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable … and wants to die in a catastrophe … and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.”

Because we, on a personal level, in most cases, chose the primary option, our hidden, shadow half can live out the latter on a collective basis. Empires gather their élan vital from such bacchanals of blood. Individually, the atomized populace of empire attempts to mitigate alienation by a vicarious revelry in violence; collectively, in the manner of any mob, from the road rage and carnage enacted on soul-devoid US interstate to the phosphorous-poisoned flesh of the people of Fallujah, the mob finds its collective comfort zone in catastrophe. Beck, Palin, and their followers are the empire’s human delivery system of The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Used as tools, by corporatists, to preserve the status quo, their hidden half might well serve as its wrecking crew.

The paranoid, domestic douchescape works in the service of the US created deathscapes overseas and vice versa in a self-resonating feedback loop. Therefore, whenever the neoliberal economic policies of corporate oligarchy and the empire’s ever expanding military industrial/national security/surveillance/prison complex are questioned, many conservatives personalize the critique. In their gut, they feel as if their identity is under attack. Consequently, the limbic system ascends to the throne of consciousness, as palace guards of casuistry defend the status quo. This could be termed Authoritarian Simpatico Syndrome (ASS) — a pathology manifested in personalities who have been traumatized by authority, but who seek to assuage the hurt and humiliation by identification with their victimizer.

This phenomenon is what is at the root of the rage rising from the faux populist right: the ground level realities of life in the corporate state are vastly incommensurate with the capitalist hagiography they hold in their heads. Moreover, when one’s mental imprinting and social conditioning is challenged, one can find oneself in a bewildering place. Though the state is emotional in nature, it feels akin to being physically lost … same disorientation, same sense of panic. Many people were never given and/or didn’t develop a compass of logic by which to navigate the novel landscape that one is cast into when one’s sacred beliefs are challenged. This is why change is a long time coming, and when it arrives it will not be greeted fondly.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at phil@philrockstroh.com and FaceBook. Read other articles by Phil, or visit Phil's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hayate said on October 4th, 2010 at 10:31am #

    “Although, as a rule, the right’s lies and displacements are most effective when liberals offer working people only bromides, platitudes, and lectures on propriety and good taste. Obama and the Democrats, time and time again, present demagogues with an opening the size of the cracks in Glen Beck’s gray matter. Hence, the bigot-whisperers of the right are provided with a void that they can seed with false narratives;”

    That’s been the modus operandi of the oligarchs for many decades. It’s another example of the “good cop, bad cop” routine in action. The non-relevance of the “liberals” is a planned, carefully thought out facilitating strategy for doing nothing positive, but supporting, or intensifying the negatives of the fascist, and now ziofascist, status quo, while giving the impression one is on the side of the humans.

  2. Don Hawkins said on October 4th, 2010 at 12:57pm #

    Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

    Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals.

    The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun.

    The intellectual is different from the ordinary man, but only in certain sections of his personality, and even then not all the time.

    We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
    George Orwell

    And he never listens to them,
    He knows that they’re the fools
    They don’t like him,

    The fool on the hill
    Sees the sun going down,
    And the eyes in his head,
    See the world spinning ’round.

  3. Don Hawkins said on October 4th, 2010 at 5:03pm #

    I watched Glenn Beck today and the things this man tell’s people. So Glenn just on the off chance you read DV this next quote is not for you but the people who listen to you.

    To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings, 1955

    Now here’s one or two for you Glenn Beck and remember they say you can judge a man by the friends he keep’s.

    Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep. ~Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, 1750

    We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. ~Kurt Vonnegut

    Just for you Glenn oh wise one. That quote by Vonnegut read it two or three times Mr. Beck you are a big boy after all.

  4. Deadbeat said on October 5th, 2010 at 1:33am #

    hayate writes …

    It’s another example of the “good cop, bad cop” routine in action. The non-relevance of the “liberals” is a planned, carefully thought out facilitating strategy for doing nothing positive, but supporting, or intensifying the negatives of the fascist, and now ziofascist, status quo, while giving the impression one is on the side of the humans.

    hayate is absolutely correct. The recent rally in Washington DC was a joke. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS, aren’t people tired of being wage slave. No one in the rally advocated RAISING TAXES ON THE RICH by repealing Kemp/Roth, restoring PROGRESSIVE taxation and redistributing the enormous wealth accumulated over the past 30 years.

    And as hayate observes are totally MUM on Zionism. Liberals are the “good cops”, ENFORCERS of the status quo, — diversion of perversion.

  5. Don Swift said on October 5th, 2010 at 4:31pm #

    Thanks, Phil Rockstroh, for a very good article.

    You are right that the Democrats too often dispense pablum. When the New Deal coalition collapsed in the late 1960s, they no longer had a narrative that moved people. Now, Americans are conditioned to distrust talk about inequality. It will take time and years of exconomic suffering for us to construct a new narrative that relates strongly to reality.

    The country has been drifting rightward since the 1970s and away from concern for community and such values as compassion, pursuit of justice, and equality. That is one reason the Democrats have had to tread lightly and pass out pablum rather than red meat. Remember the Reagan Democrats who jumped ship because they disliked blacks and were unwilling to be concerned about the poor. Their numbers have grown. That is one reason why so many Democrats started accepting Republican economic theories.

    A recent University of Washington study showed that the Tea Baggers, of all Americans, are most inclined to think Obama was born in Africa, most inclined to think black deserve their fate, and most unwilling to trust blacks. We dare not identify all this for what it is because so many racists vote regularly.

    Let me add that the Democrats get an “F-” in communications. They need to study cognitive science and learn message control.

    You find culture and sacred beliefs at the core of the problem, and I agree.
    Corporate America has spent billions constructing what most Americans think is the common wisdom. It includes exceptionalism, which justifies the wars and aggressiveness, Social Darwinism, which sustains efforts to injure the poor and marginalized, and belief in unregulated capitalism, which lines the pocket of the rich and plunges ordinary folks into unemployment and depleted savings.

    You say many lack any moral compass. I add that these folks are most likely to find the common wisdom to be sacred. When things get tough–which can mean seeing the coming of a pluralistic America–they cling desparately to the verities of the common wisdom.

    These are the people Srah Palin and Glenn Beck play to. That is why we have a Tea Bagger movement, which has taken over the Republican Party. It will grow unless things get better and blacks and Hispanics stop voting in substantial numbers.

    I recently read a column by Jim Leach, a Republican who had served 30 years in Congress. His wording was careful, but he acknowledged that the Tea Bagger movement was “manipulated.” That means it is not just a natural occurance. There is a lot of social science theory behind it. It is funded by billionaires, orchestrated by skilled political operatives, and planned by very bright people.

    If there is any dout that it is carefully guided, recall how the Tea Baggers ranted about TARP bailing out Wall Street. When the time came to reregulate Wall Street, these people were absolutely silent or opposed finance reform. Dick Armey, the point man, for the money men and strategist behind it disingenuously said the Tea Baggers lacked the time to study this issue and take a stand.

    It is maddening that liberal pundits make fun of the Tea Baggers; that only helps them grow. Instead, the liberal pundits and strategists need to study modern social science and pay closest attention to the political fundamentalism that emerged with Nazi Germany. It is laced with anger, rage, racism, and xenophobia. It can last a decade or more, and it has the potential to get out of hand. Already we see the Tea Baggers resorting to violent language and violent acts. The movement has more than a touch of anarchy about it. They say they revere the constitution, but they embrace theories that would tear it asunder. Those theories were espoused by the Confederates who tried to destroy the Federal Union.

    Thanks again for a very good piece.