The span of my life on earth has seen all the varied ingredients of the political mess we are in develop into what we are facing today.
The early 1950s saw the rise of television, and the instant celebrity of one Joe McCarthy raving about Communists. Television also brought to people’s home the Civil Rights Movement, with biting dogs, fire hoses, and anti-integration white people harassing brave Black youth.
Segregationists like Lester Maddox and George Wallace got fame (and when I was in college in Michigan in 1972, Wallace won the Democratic Presidential primary!). As some of the Democratic Party moved left in support of civil rights (Kennedys, Johnson, Humphrey, etc.), Nixon set up and won with the Southern Strategy, which went after the votes of anti-integration white people, a conservative populist base, which, when later merged with the politicization of evangelical Christians in the late ’70s, formed a powerful bloc that elected Ronald Reagan.
The 1980s under Reagan saw the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, opening the way for truth-be-damned talk radio with Rush Limbaugh and others. Silos of right wing populism developed, aggressively attacking liberals, and then with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, an all-out assault on the Democratic Party.
That led to the rise of Newt Gingrich, and the politics of blocking everything possible, including government shutdowns, and the personal attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton with bogus conspiracies and gotcha games.
And then of course, Fox News was created in 1996 as well.
Well-funded conservative “think tanks” developed using corporate funding and mega millionaire support grew, influencing elections with chosen candidates, the writing of legislation, and guiding nominations to the courts. Right wing hardball politics saw George W. Bush declared winner in 2000, and tie-a-yellow-ribbon patriotism followed the tragedy of 9/11/01. The unprecedented “swift boating” of John Kerry helped give Bush his second term, marked by disastrous wars successfully supported by lies.
With Obama, the racist underbelly of the right emerged with all kinds of attacks regarding his religion, his place of birth, and his intentions regarding healthcare proposals (death panels, etc.). In a politically slick move, the Republicans used the 2010 off-year election to win in many states, and thus accelerating gerrymandering, creating a big majority of House seats guaranteeing overwhelming Republican turnout, and allowing extremists to win. Social media came into prominence and was exploited heavily, creating phony grassroots organizing like the Tea Party.
In 2015, the ingredients were all there, and down the escalator came Trump the Catalyst to ignite the fire which will likely still be burning when he is gone from the scene, leaving us with the reactionary Supreme Court and the severely divided society.
Can this descent into authoritarianism be turned around? November 2022 is our first chance. Grab the Senate, keep hold of the House, win some governorships. All three are on our Florida ballots, campaigns we can support. Will we?
An image came to my mind of this country’s democracy as a Jenga game. With all the challenges and blockades to our being a well-functioning democracy — the lies believed and promoted, gerrymandering, voter suppression, inflammatory language, corporate money, etc. etc. — it’s like blocks are being pulled out, one after another until we reach a point of teetering. Tearing down is easier than building up. We are at a critical point of just trying to save what we have. Do what you can.
PS: I must acknowledge the help reading both David Corn in the Sept./Oct. Mother
Jones magazine and Dana Milbank’s great new book, The Destructionists, gave in
refreshing my memory of all that my news junkie mind had been taking in over the last 50 years. You can find the former online and the latter as an e-book (or actual book!).