Divided

From a Google Image Search – Teachers College, Columbia University

We are so divided that we can’t do what is necessary to beat a devious virus that keeps spinning out mutations as we procrastinate about getting it under control. This pandemic is destroying the American economy, and our divisions over simple health measures like masks and vaccines are destroying the American spirit. But our divisions are not real. At least we were not this divided until one political party decided to gin up our differences because it offered an engineered political advantage. 

We live right next door to each other. We used to be family and neighbors. Now we are enemies. Now we don’t know what we can and cannot say to each other. The right-wing media used the way workers felt cheated when factories left their towns to move South or to move overseas. They whipped up a vague sense of grievance into a movement of defiance. They made sure that this group of angry Americans would be armed, and they used guns as an issue to divide us, to make us feel afraid of each other. They enlisted the aggrieved as an army to make a war between Democrats and Republicans. They escalated feelings of xenophobia brought on by terrorism (when we lost our invincibility on 9/11/2001) and they turned our fear of terrorism into an argument for nativism and white supremacy. 

It all happened in the minds and hearts of Americans. The only way to trace that it happened at all is in the battlelines we face over every issue that concerns us as Americans. We see it in the way we insisted that our schools switch to common core, that we stress nonfiction materials over literature. We see it in the movement to charter schools designed to perpetuate segregation. We see in attitudes towards police reform and bail reform intended to end racism in our justice system. We see it in the way people who needed health care still were persuaded to reject the Medicaid expansion.We see it in the Wall. We see it in the fight over whether there is election fraud in America or not. We see it in the willingness to break with Constitutional law in order to exploit our differences over the issue of abortion and increase our divisions. We saw it starkly during the pandemic when half of American became convinced that wearing a mask would destroy their freedom – freedom to do what, die? We see it again in the refusal of half of our population to get a vaccine that has proven to be safe and effective. 

These divisions are fake, they are a product of some of the most successful propaganda that America (possibly the world) has ever seen. One political party has turned common sense upside down and inside out to gain political advantage. They have whispered in people ears over air pods and car radios. They have ranted and raved over televisions and computers, and whipped people into a frenzy about the supposed hypocrisy of the Democratic Party, while their own hypocrisy has been downplayed and explained away with twisted logic — logic which forces a wedge between the convinced and those who are not susceptible to the harangues of obvious demagogues. 

Neighbors and family who loved Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and even discredited sources like Bill O’Reilly, have been offered a constant menu of replacements. Tucker Carlsen is the new darling they listen to all day in living rooms, kitchens and garages. Sean Hannity, best friend of Trump is still around offering up his smarmy harangues to make sure Americans can no longer trust each other, to make us want to feel such levels of angry frustration with each other that we want to brawl in the streets or shoot each other, although (and thank goodness) most of us stop short of that so far. This propaganda has been so successful that it is now self-sustaining and, perhaps, permanent. 

This disingenuous attack on the United States of America may have succeeded even beyond the imaginations of those who began it. It may have begun as a political ploy to turn a minority party into a force that defied elections and stayed in office reliably. The party had objectives that they knew would help them succeed. They planned to stuff the courts and were dismayed when Obama was elected, twice. But after two years GOP machinations held and they controlled Congress, pursued a policy of obstruction and were able to minimalize the ‘damage’ to the courts. Republicans were able to block Obama when he should have been able to fill a seat in the Supreme Court, using a political argument they abandoned at the first opportunity. They allied with Evangelicals and Catholics on the issue of abortion, enlisting churches to preach propaganda from pulpits (which violated their tax-free status) partly from genuine conviction, partly for reasons of political exploitation.

By recruiting individual states and making sure that their statehouses were run by Republicans, the GOP was able to use the old Civil War states’ rights fight, used to defuse Reconstruction, to further divide us into ‘Red States’ and ‘Blue States’. (Of course, these governments do not accurately reflect the attitudes of all the residents of these states). They argued for small federal government while also enabling an omnipotent federal executive branch headed by an all-powerful President, backed up by his own Justice Department dedicated to defending the President’s all-powerful state. Republicans were, in this manner, willing to switch out a democracy/republic for a dictatorship and their brainwashed crew did/does not even flinch, did/does not see the seditious intent in invoking two incompatible approaches to American governance. 

Civil War resentments nursed for over a century, bubbled to the surface as they had in the years of our battles over civil rights. Rich southerners had never accepted that their ‘slaves’ were free and equal citizens of America. They consistently offered faux evidence that black folks were mentally inferior and only suited for physical labor. They have kept up a drumbeat of racism as a bass line in America since they lost the Civil War in 1865. This ‘Southern pride’ was kept alive by our entire nation when the federal government stepped away from interfering in violence during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, when they left matters up to local sheriffs. The Civil War has reared its divisive spirit to add intensity to more modern grievances and has added to contemporary racial animosities resulting from segregation, what appears to be racist policing, and generational inequality.

How do we heal our divide? How do we get our disaffected family and friends to recognize how they are being used by one political party to kill off a rival party? How do we help those who live among us realize that what the Republicans have to offer them will not prepare them in any meaningful way for the changes America must own and adapt to? Computer chips changed everything. Since this is being written on the 20 th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and possibly on Washington DC, there is much talk of how 9/11 changed America, how it made us less self-assured, more vulnerable. But our parent’s way of life had already been changed so much by job losses and Vietnam and the 1960’s, and climate change, perhaps 9/11 was just the last straw. Perhaps anger was in some American hearts just waiting to be stoked by those among us who were most hungry for power. 

If we can’t unite over a pandemic, over something that is clearly apolitical, how will we unite over anything?  Our national sadness and frustrations are with us every day, and this is tearing our nation apart. People are determined to pretend that it is fine to be joyful even in the face of so much upheaval and grief, but there is probably a price to pay for keeping up a pretense of pleasure and personal indulgence at such a moment. So far, no one has appeared with a recipe that will heal us, but we can always hope. The dialectic, if there is such a thing, may eventually predict a swing towards unity once again. However, it is scary to think what might happen to unite us if a pandemic doesn’t.  

Brainwashing America: What to Do with Our Beloved Pod People

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For years the brainwashing that produced Trump’s followers has issued forth from radios in the dead of the night as lonely truckers and other drivers travelled the highways across America. For at least one decade, probably closer to two decades impassioned talkers have whispered in the ears of lower middle class men and women, husbands and fathers the news that white people in America were about to be replaced by minorities; that soon the minority population of America would be larger than the white population. These smooth talkers did not bother to tell listeners that this did not mean any one group would outnumber white folks, that this number was an aggregate number. Pretty soon all over America people were shaking their heads in agreement, suddenly aware that these midnight voices were speaking a truth they could feel in their own guts. Yes, yes Rush Limbaugh is a righteous dude. You should listen. Marc Levine, f-ing A, that’s my man. You gotta’ hear this.

Immigrants, some of them Muslims, some of them gang members, people who can’t even speak English, who are not Christians, are taking your tax dollars, they expound to the rhythm of big tires on American highways and in garages all over the country. These immigrants get the same benefits you get like welfare, health care, even social security or social security disability. They get free housing, some are given cars, these disembodied voices exclaim each night in the hours when drivers are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel without some kind of stimulation. These radio talkers offer major stimulation; they offer anger and ‘enlightenment’ and approval of what others call inappropriate thoughts and opinions. You may need guns they say.

These immigrants are taking American jobs because they will work for nothing. Many of them are here illegally, they should not be here and yet they are given jobs and benefits just like real Americans. You are being replaced in your own nation by foreigners. These topics are popular. They come up over and over again. People can call in and these guys will sympathize with the anger their listeners express, they can prop up that anger and expand on it. The hours melt away.

They tell their listeners that they can blame it all on the Democrats. The talkers’ views are so popular that a whole TV network is cobbled together to bring these views into American homes, in order to discuss American gripes twenty-four/seven. These issues that arouse the anger of their listeners do not have to be true; they just have to call forth that righteous anger that fuels an entirely new political view, the politics of white injustice, the piling up of the abuses being heaped on real Americans, of the losses real Americans have suffered when their good jobs, their factory jobs were given to foreigners. Brains are being ‘snatched’; a generation of ‘pod’ people is being created.

Americans who worked hard all their lives were paying for deadbeats who did not have to work. Now the drumbeat of injustice played out all day and all night in living color. Democrats defend deadbeats, therefore Democrats are bad. Republicans are informing you of how you are being ripped off so Republicans are good. Glenn Beck, your old dashboard friend Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly – these guys sound smart, they write books, they are patriots, they even rewrite history for their listeners. The internet gives us The Daily Caller, and The Thinker, pseudo-Conservative (actually extreme right wing and Tea Party) sites offering “intellectual” cachet to a movement that is basically anti-intellectual.

You are paying too many taxes. (Yes we are, these people are so right.) Your tax dollars are being used to support illegal immigrants. (That’s true, listeners say, and it makes me really angry.) Our government is too big. (Also true, you guys are speaking our language.) All this nonsense about what it is politically correct to say and what it’s not OK to say. We have free speech. We get to tell it like it is. (Husbands and wives listen and watch together and they bond in righteous anger.)

This is brainwashing and it has been very effective. These are Trump’s peeps. They heard the gospel according to Talk Radio and Fox ‘News’. They are pumped, they are not going to take it anymore. They are the new Republicans who the old school Republicans are aghast to find in their party. But these people are white and they are a whole different kind of ‘woke’ and the party of racism and guns, facing decline, needs them. We’ll talk them into believing the Democrats are going to steal their guns and allow their daughters to abort their grandchildren, that strangers will slaughter them in their beds, they say. There is so much scope in this whole strategy of stoking the feelings that folks are victims of a great big plot against real Americans that those who run the GOP can make themselves wealthier and these particular Americans will think it is all part of a plan that will benefit the middle class. The politicians and pundits will laugh all the way to the bank (but not out loud please). 

Our forefathers may have said that all men are created equal and that we all deserve the same things but half of them kept slaves so they didn’t really mean all people; they meant white people, people of European descent. So even when Republicans ignore or reinterpret portions of our Constitution and our laws and rules, these Americans, primed by propaganda delivered in their most vulnerable moments, feel convinced that ending our democracy/republic will turn out in their favor; isolationism will turn out in their favor; and somehow, by deportation or death, we will become an all-white English speaking nation. It won’t be pretty and our souls may not get through the entire process unscathed and we might not even still be alive when the ‘cleansed’ version of America becomes reality, but our children’s children will be all set. (Especially since climate change is not real, they are told.)

It is becoming increasingly obvious that we cannot undo these decades of brainwashing, of filling people’s minds with lies that suggest that merit is sorted out by skin color, what language you speak, and even what God you worship or how you worship God. Terrorism is scary and has given fear-mongering tactics added power to persuade Americans that they will only be safe in a homogeneous nation, while those who say they will guarantee that safety rob the middle-class of assets and place those assets in their own bloated bank accounts. 

Democrats have been so successfully demonized that they realize that they will be unable to get through to at least 30% of Americans, possibly even 40% of Americans and that, given four more years in power, the damage to American values and the foundations of our nation could be devastating. What can a party do when it believes that mass propaganda is wrong? They can’t use the tactics they abhor. All they can do is speak the truth and hope it eventually gets through the fog of brainwashing many percolate in. But global chaos waits in the wings if minds remain programmed as the ‘pod’ peoples’ are.

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