Why are so many Americans so crazy?
Over half of surveyed Republicans said they believe that the president is a socialist Muslim who wants to take away gun rights and turn over U.S. sovereignty to the U.N. What’s deeper, though, is the vitriol of those beliefs, with a substantial number of Republicans believing that Obama resents America’s heritage (47 percent), is the “domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of” (45 percent), wants to use an economic or terrorist event as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (41 percent), is doing some of the same stuff that Hitler did (38 percent), and may, in fact, be the Anti-Christ (24 percent). Daily Beast
Essentially what we have is Rupert Murdoch in the role of Joseph Goebbels nightly on Fox.
The idea is very simple, classic really. The system is in crisis, social inequality is widening and hardening, so stimulating paranoia and racism is a simple and effective way of keeping people from thinking about things like taxing the rich in order to get good public schools, affordable health care and other such Bolshevik twaddle.
To understand this craziness we have to turn it inside out. The first thing about it that catches my attention in the Harris and similar polls is that a significant portion of the American population is totally paranoid and extremely suggestible. If we discount genetics and/or some hallucinogen that has been added to the water, we would have to look at objective factors to account for this vulnerability.
Color in the United States is just a “warning signal” that history has walked into the room. But even history doesn’t explain it all. Our history of slavery is pretty horrible, but slavery was horrible in Cuba and Brazil too. However, Cubans and Brazilians are much more relaxed about color. Americans, though, are not really relaxed about much of anything.
Our culture is Calvinist: brittle and inflexible even in its hedonism, where, with predestination, the devil literally takes the hindmost.
Although in many parts of Europe, for example, losing, being maudit, is considered romantic, the worst put down in American English is to call someone a “loser”.
Therefore, Americans are obsessed with “winning” and “losing”.
This makes American racial tension different… I think America’s racism has something to do with America’s puritanical streak, with its hatred of vulnerability and the vulnerable slaves were “losers” par excellence.
The vulnerability of the “other”, whomever that other might be is the origin of the sickest of fantasies.
This role has been passed onto the slave’s descendants.
To begin with America’s cult of competition, of dividing people from childhood into “winners” and “losers”, has created an entire nation within the nation of losers: an enormous mass of people who feel terrible about themselves.
The American Dream is based on social mobility, but a great many Americans have not “moved” up since they arrived, even many who arrived during colonial times. At this moment many are on an express elevator moving down.
Since colonial times the subjugation and humiliation of African-Americans has provided a valuable tool in defusing social tensions in the rest of the population.
It all goes back that far.
Probably the most valuable service to domestic peace that slaves provided even, or especially, for those who didn’t own them, was the role of being someone even the most miserable white person could feel superior to.
The real problem in America is not racism in itself, the problem is a society or a culture that divides human beings into “winners” and “losers” and punishes the losers so mercilessly. These unfortunates simply cannot survive psychologically without their “whipping boy”. Racism is a tool of social control. The classic “divide and rule”.
That is the dirty little family secret of American capitalism: keeping the races at each others throats prevents the social democracy that exists in practically every other country of similar economic development.
God knows that America is full of desperately miserable white people. Not all of them are poor, not by long shot.
For losing and feeling miserable in America is not just economic, a study of marketing messages will give you an idea of the infinite ways that an American can be a “loser”, while “pursuing happiness” (forever “chasing”, never catching).
The entire American consumer economy, which is 70% of the total, is based on making people feel bad about themselves, making them feel poor, ugly, sick, helpless, stupid, inadequate and then offering to sell them something to relieve the pain of rejection and failure. A person of color might blame all the frustrations of life on race prejudice and he or she would be right in most cases. The white loser, and they are legion, hasn’t ever had even that safety valve.
Those whites who fear they might be “losers” themselves, and if we look at the economic and psychological facts of life in today’s American, that might include most American whites, desperately need someone to look down upon as a psychological safety valve and of course, since time immemorial African-Americans, even the lightest skinned among them, have served that purpose. Their status as loser was even pleasing to the abolitionists that wanted to “uplift” them.
For literally hundreds of years, besides this role as the official ultimate-loser, no other role beyond entertaining or lifting heavy loads was permitted them.
In 1952 an African-American author, Ralph Ellison published a ground breaking novel, “The Invisible Man”, whose title many critics feel defined the experience of people of African descent in America: that of being invisible and voiceless. In the years that followed, the people of color in the United States raised their voices and became visible, to the great and continuing discomfort of many whites. The white people of the US south who once voted solidly Democratic have punished that party’s leadership of the civil rights movement by voting solidly Republican ever since… the key to the victories of Nixon, Reagan and Bush. The “Conservative Revolution”, that only favors the rich, is based on the resentment of poor whites and gives the wealthy the necessary numbers to win elections.
With Barack Obama this resentment is coming to head.
Up till now, American “identity” politics was always played with surrogates: WASP or “waspable” white men wearing masks.
Thus Bill Clinton was “America’s first black president”. The whatever WASP whose turn it was to woo Latinos, would eat tacos and say “juntos podemos” with an atrocious accent etc, etc. Candidates would attempt to show that they were “sensitive” to the feminist agenda and so on. Absolutely de rigueur for all white, male and protestant presidentiables was a photo at Yad Vashem sporting a yomulka. This all came with the turf like kissing babies. It was all a game.
The problems start when the Democrats decided to use “originals” instead of the traditional, “ballo in maschera“. The whole charade begins to fall apart without the WASP surrogates.
All of this resentful white anger has been directed heretofore against surrogates: the Jimmy Carters, the Ted Kennedys, the Walter Mondales, the Dukakises, the Gores and the Kerrys; and all the racism was disguised in euphemisms like “state’s rights” or “liberal” or “elitist” or “un-American”.
Now for the first time the American white ultra-right have got the chance to actually organize and march against a real black man who incarnates all the euphemisms, instead of a surrogate.
Even a “JFK meets Sydney Poitier” figure like president Barack Obama, or especially like Obama, is an unbearable provocation — a lifetime membership card in the “loser” club — for millions of American white people.
What is to be done? How to proceed.
Take a look at the two quotes below. I think that between them they hold the germs of program for the American left… if such an animal really exists.
“Reagan’s view of government as the problem is increasingly at odds with a nation whose system of health care relies on large for-profit entities designed to make money rather than improve health; whose economy is dependent on global capital and on global corporations and financial institutions with no particular loyalty to America; and much of whose fuel comes from unstable and dangerous areas of the world. Under these conditions, government is the only entity that can look out for our interests.” Robert Reich
The deeper point–the ones the tea partiers haven’t courage nor the brains to see–is that our technological age has laid bare a core fact of American life: that our corporatist state uses white men and women just like it uses black, brown and yellow ones–as cannon fodder. There is little “upward mobility.” Your children probably won’t live as well as you, much less better. Your 2nd and 3rd mortgages made them billions and then they bankrupted you. They stole your future itself. Leonce Gaiter
Alas, few are equipped either by temperament or by training to face with “sober senses” either the “real conditions” of their lives or the “relations with their kind”. This lack makes them easy prey for movements like the Tea Party that fill the paths to truth with the traditional red herrings of American racism disguised as libertarianism.
This nauseating and supremely effective tactic is being trotted out once again.
At this moment the fundamental role of progressive Americans is to expose and root out the true causes of racism.
The day when Americans in similar economic straits cease to see skin color and see clearly and soberly what they all have in common, in the same way that the wealthy and powerful minority always have: on that day will the battle for social justice in the United States be more than half won.