The Far Right's First 100 Days: Getting More Extreme by the Day
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Either way, these leaders are invariably amoral, ego-driven, high-social-dominance men who gain power by hijacking their followers' moral systems.
When they succeed -- which is to say, when they finally override the ethical ballast provided by tradition, customs, laws and conscience to become the dominant moral authority in their followers' lives -- they can gain a stunning degree of influence and lead people into doing things they'd never have considered on their own.
The right wing has never been short of these guys. Still, in the past, the paranoid stylings of media ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were simply background ranting to the more reality-based lead vocal of the party's actual politicians.
But now the election is over. The candidates have all gone home. And the GOP's party structure is in tatters. There are no credible political leaders left to drive the conservative conversation. That leaves a power vacuum on the front line that the right-wing hate talkers are now rushing forward to fill.
When Limbaugh is considered the GOP's spiritual leader, and Beck is its leading prophet, the conservative movement's entire discourse is now driven by whatever outrageous rhetoric seems most likely to boost Fox News' ratings. The moral hijacking of the movement has begun, and nobody should be surprised when these folks finally end up in the same moral abyss these kinds of leaders always bring their followers to.
Sixth: They're putting themselves in direct opposition to state power -- and identifying that power as their primary enemy.
All groups headed for a violent confrontation eventually come to believe that their enemies are somehow aligned with the government -- and the government is out to get them. Conservatives are coming up hard against this one now that they no longer control the government themselves. Back when they were gleefully dismantling the Constitution and building a surveillance state, it never occurred to them that they might someday be out of power.
Now, of course, they're terrified to find all that unleashed, unaccountable power in the hands of Libruls and That Black Guy.
Weirdly, they seem to have almost total amnesia about their role in all this. To hear them tell it, Barack Obama seized all this power for himself in just the past three months. Given that epic memory failure, there's not much hope that they'll draw the right lessons from this reversal.
It's far more likely that their newfound terror of government power will lead them to resent -- and eventually overreact to -- even casual encounters with government authority.
Seventh: They're arming up. Back in 2006, right-wing watchers warned that white-supremacist groups were encouraging their members to join the military in order to get the weapons training they'll need to execute their racial holy war. And for the first time ever, the recruit-starved military wasn't doing much to cull them out.
The DHS' concern about returning veterans was no doubt partly based on this recent history, which has given racist groups unprecedented access to propagandize troops at the front.
At the same time, the past 100 days have seen record gun sales and nationwide ammo shortages as terrified conservatives buy up guns in anticipation of a total weapons ban.
This seems like just another curious, only-in-America news story -- until you realize that the far right is already sporting most of the earmarks of a group that's gearing up for violent action. Given the rest of the pattern, we should take this trend very, very seriously.
Eighth: They're flexing their muscles. Groups who are flirting with terrorist action will usually start by experimenting with threats and petty violence. Learning that they can successfully intimidate others adds to the group's sense of invincibility and teaches them the dangerous lesson that violence works. Both these discoveries increase the chances that they'll resort to violence more quickly, and in greater magnitude, in the future.