Hate and Violence Are Encoded in the DNA of the American Right
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Jared Loughner’s attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a wakeup call for us to confront the reality that hate and violence are encoded in the political DNA of the American Right.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, there have been seven separate cases of disturbed white men committing political murders after becoming hopped up on guns, right-wing media and anti-government and anti-Obama blather. And this doesn’t even include Loughner’s attack or other incidents where the gunman was intent on killing but didn’t succeed.
Compare this with the lack of political violence during the Bush era, when passions were equally inflamed. This stark contrast demands an explanation for why there have been so many political murder sprees in less than two years. The answer can be found within the strain of reactionary politics that dominates the American Right. The Right thrives on mobilizing group resentment, and the range of its targets over the last 50 years is astonishing: gays and lesbians, African Americans, Latinos, feminists, welfare recipients, reproductive-rights activists, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, government officials, criminals, liberals, antiwar activists, organized labor.
The group resentment is fomented and stoked within the right-wing echo chamber, in increasingly apocalyptic terms. With swaths of the public alienated and looking for easy answers in a time of epic joblessness, they latch onto scapegoats that demagogues like Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage provide. As a result millions of alienated Americans are convinced their problems and the national malaise is the fault of Mexicans, liberals, abortion providers and homosexuals. Politicians willing to exploit this hatred can find a large and passionate base. Because extremism stands out in our media-saturated culture, those voices and politicians who are the most outrageous tend to be the most successful. This creates a politics that makes compromise and reasoned discourse all but impossible. Add to that a political system dominated by corporate money, which makes addressing social ills all but impossible, and you have a public seething with anger but with no ready outlet.
In a society awash in guns and a culture enthralled with violence, it becomes inevitable that some on the fringe, mentally and socially, will grab their guns and start blazing away, especially after they have been told society is collapsing and the forces of darkness – as represented by the demonized groups and individuals such as Muslims and Obama – are coming for you. The only surprise is that there haven’t been more Jared Loughners in the last two years.
The series of political murders is appalling, but the greater danger is an organized social expression of the rage. Now, fascism is one of the most-overused terms in American political discourse, and we are a long way from jackbooted thugs kicking down our doors and dragging is off to death camps. But we are in a proto-fascistic moment where forces of reaction – those who seek a hierarchical society based on mythologized notions of traditional identity – are allied with a section of capital and are increasingly willing to use violence to achieve their aims. (By “Right,” I mean reactionary right as I explain below. Others on the Right, such as libertarians, oppose much of the scapegoating and demonization upon that reactionaries thrive.)
Denying that the Right mobilizes group hatred or apportioning blame across the political spectrum – such as the bland MoveOn petition calling for all Congress members and TV pundits to end “all overt and implied threats of violence” or Keith Olbermann’s “we need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently. Left, right, middle” – only lets the Right off the hook for instigating violence.