Six Witch-Hunts Inform The “Age of Scapegoating”

Ever reckon how future earthlings will sum up our whirling, unhinged, hyper-partisan dervish of an era?  Nix on “Golden Age,” though even worse times ahead will inflate this era with a nostalgic glow. Forget “Renaissance” as one-third of our country considers classical, liberal humanism the menace. Too much fundamentalist shaking goin’ on, let alone the onrushing Rapture. Even so, no “Age of Faith” either as church membership plummets and god-fearing fret over impious children.

Surely “Age of Enlightenment” is out, first because the 18th C. bagged it, and second, today’s merciless scorn for evolution and climate change, let alone Birtherism, passion for capital punishment – plus Rush Limbaugh still pontificates – all speak to devolution, not wisdom. Okay, naysayers cling to doom and gloom and reprise the imminent “Dark Ages.” But that term, which distorted lively medieval times, is out of sync with the flashy, electronics-bright Information Age. Ditto, naming our age after the dominant, global belief system (called science), the most palpable religion (reverence for technology) and, like it or now, the dominance of western, corporate capitalism.

No, to capture the modern spirit, especially the American narrative, a darker core emerges, thus my nomination: “Age of Scapegoating.” Are our politics not obsessed with witch-hunting the innocent, providing base emotional releases through destructive rituals? Did not our latest scandal from the Christie administration prey on guiltless commuters locked down for the four-day, Fort Lee bridge calamity? Embracing every trend-setting scandal, scapegoating coughs up, especially for the right, a charade of grievances, sham justifications, wingnut bigotry and defense of both heinous action or immoral inaction. Scapegoating, like sound bites, enhances fabricated, momentary crisis, thus obscuring all fundamental causes. To paraphrase Voltaire on God, “if scapegoats didn’t exist, yahoos would have to invent them.”

Six Sacrifices Set the Stage

While injured groups qualify as modern prey (gay populations, Hispanic immigrants, non-violent Muslims, our poorest minorities, especially women with unwanted pregnancies, or Gulf fishermen first decimated, then demonized by BP’s legal shenanigans, let’s focus on the most historic and juiciest of ritualistic scapegoating.

  • Al Gore, the Winningest Loser: Yes, his presidential campaign faltered, but no good reason for the Supreme Court to whack his Florida plurality were all the votes counted. Thus kicked off the first big-name domestic sacrifice of the new century.  With a 500K plurality (that is, not even close), Gore symbolized also the first of many unspeakable blows that poisoned majority rule. No wonder Fate retorted with a president who impaled an entire generation. Performed with ritualistic precision over months, the theft of Gore’s win anointed the forces of darkness. That Gore bounced back, as top environmentalist and famous rich person, does not discharge his unique status as the great scapegoat who won the vote but lost the chance to save America irreparably from Bush-Cheney.
  • Millions Sacrificed by Wars Against Terrorism. Indeed, the subsequent enemies’ crusade by this same vengeful, neocon swat team decimated entire civilian populations of innocents as “Islamic evil-doers.” Nothing bespeaks scapegoating like dividing everyone as either “with us or against us.” How many untried “Islamic terrorists” were/are still jailed in secret prisons? Drones that never touched Saudi Arabia, responsible for most 9/11 villains, serve the surgical witch-hunters. Certainly, Saddam Hussein was erroneously scapegoated for 9/11, non-existent WMDs or military assaults on the U.S., with or without mushroom clouds. Then exterminated. Was the separate Afghan Taliban not made equivalent, then crushed, in retribution against al Qaeda murderers? Never have two wars strategically scapegoated more millions guiltless of the source event across the globe? Were not good Americans also sacrificed on the fields of unwinnable wars?  Against our 10-15K killed, designated revenge ended up killing 100 million people, 98% of them because of bad geography and wrong ethnicity.
  • The Cheney Vendetta Against Wilson-Plame.  Cornered by growing uproars against his war madness, our most paranoid of scapegoaters, Cheney spitefully punished the honorable wife of a honorable, truth-telling diplomat. Sacrificed also was Cheney’s chief of staff (though no innocent) as the V.P. from hell broke our law, custom and decency by outing this covert CIA agent’s status. Plame qualifies as model scapegoat, the innocent, designated victim mortified because of her husband. And the cause for this most singular infamy? Cheney could not stand being outed as not just a consummate liar, but a crazed schemer worse than the previous standard, Richard Nixon.
  • Howard Dean’s ’04 Crucifixion: At last, an honorable progressive with a strong state record achieves national standing in the ‘04 Democratic primary, repeating his potent anti-war message. Leveraging one moment of Dean’s triumphant enthusiasm, the merciless mass media desecrated him as unstable, thus executing one of the most dastardly, modern press assassinations. This champion against blundering war-making, with far more life and executive expertise than both eventual party nominees, was taken down for months not over a policy error, or debate blunder, but theatrical enthusiasm. Since the Dean sacrifice, what official has steadfastly worked to re-educate America against militaristic over-reach as the wrong and immoral response to outlier terrorists threats.
  • The “Illegitimate” Obama Presidency:  Whatever Obama’s legacy of failed pledges, mediocrity, and impotence, no other president faced such a noxious, post-election scapegoating onslaught. The audacity of extremist mendacity shredded the audacity of hope: Not born in the U.S., or at best suspect Hawaii, not a legitimate citizen, certainly not a one of Palin’s “real Americans” — this “socialist, Muslim-fifth columnist” was/is mercilessly attacked by low-life militants of bad faith. Impeachment calls have not withered, and truly benighted ask when Obama will finally renounce his “Indonesian citizenship.” The vacuous transparency plus the duration of abuse, outlasting for years what should have evaporated in days, established new lows, especially as top Republicans refused to discredit the calumny. Though Obama kept his distance from this poison, an army of pigmies left no doubt the “vast, rightwing conspiracy” lives on.
  • Whistleblowers – Assange, Manning and Snowden: Rather than admit electronic spying is a plaque, wasting billions to invade privacy without creasing terrorist plots, the same president victimized by mindless Birthers now sacrifices revealing whistleblowers for political expediency. Whether about grievous misinformation on war prep and operations, a myriad of government malfeasance, or crass political opportunism, honorable whistleblowers have been scapegoated as malcontents, manipulated toys of foreign powers (right, Russians set Snowden up, per extremist ravings given TV time last Sunday), mentally deranged, or as traitors ready for the guillotine (just like unindicted citizens fingered for drone elimination). That right wing authoritarians deny the truth is no surprise; that a seemingly rational president had his State Dept. axe Snowden’s passport, thus exiling him in Russia, was an act of petty revenge. That speaks to ritual scapegoating – wherein gratuitous punishment unrelated to the alleged crimes is meted out without due process.

My list is not exhaustive so join in with nominations. If this be the “Age of Scapegoating,” countless opportunities arise for frazzled, rightly ambushed leaders to commit retribution against those who risk breaking the rules for a higher good. So Snowden is imprisoned in backward Putinland, and for a long winter (no Olympic appearance likely – but wouldn’t that rock?), Manning is locked up for years, and Afghan and Pakistani villagers, among others, are droned to death, despite neither will nor means to undermine national security or reduce what’s left of American integrity. Scapegoating, after all, is like karma that returns with bad force on instigators, jeopardizing reputation, though as with Bush and Cheney, not often enough their liberty.

Robert S. Becker was educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English). He left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. "Writing for the public taught me how to communicate." From '92-02 he did marketing consulting, grant, and business writing. Since '02, he scribbles on politics, science and culture, looking for the wit in the shadows. Read other articles by Robert.