The Real Sources of Right-Wing Paranoia

by Rich Rubenstein on January 13, 2011 · 2 comments

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Let’s Get This Straight: There is No Leftist Equivalent to the Right’s Violent Rhetoric | | AlterNet.

Melissa McEwan’s well-documented article for AlterNet is right on the money, as far as it goes.  The problem is that it doesn’t go far enough.  As Melissa says, to maintain that the source of today’s polluted political atmosphere is some form of generalized “extremism” or “incivility” creates a false equivalence between right-wing and left-liberal rhetoric, and exonerates the Far Right of all responsibility for acts of violence like Jared Loughboro’s.

Barack Obama offered the same exoneration, for the same reasons, in his beautifully written and moving but politically vacuous Tucscon address.  Let’s all be nicer to each other, more empathetic, etc.  But what remains unanswered is the critical question: What are the underlying sources of incivility and extremism? To hear some liberals talk about it, one might imagine that the real cause was the rhetoric of Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin.  But this is nothing more than the old “outside agitator” of social discontent dressed in liberal garb.

True, left-liberal political speech has generally been more pacific than that of conservative firebrands like Beck, O’Reilly, and Limbaugh.  But the liberals bear another kind of responsibility for the current wave of paranoia and hatred directed at government officials, non-whites, immigrants, Muslims, GLTB folks, and other “enemies within.”  Right-wingers are not idiot robots whipped into a violent frenzy by a few hatemongers.  They are participants in a mass movement whose real (but unacknowledged) source of  psychic energy is the failure of American business and its political representatives to solve basic social problems.

Corporate America and its political minions (including the eloquent Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say) apparently don’t have a clue about solving the problems of 15 million unemployed, millions more fearing the loss of precarious jobs, declining family incomes, deindustrialization of vast regions, unbridled financial speculation, declining public services, shattered rural and urban communities, jammed prisons, and endless foreign wars.  The failure to solve these problems by imagining and implementing needed structural changes is what makes people seek out scapegoats and respond to the violent, paranoic rhetoric of figures like Glenn Beck.   It is this failure that produces widespread feelings of helplessness, victimization, fear, and rage, and sets the stage for fascistic speech and violent behavior.

If neither liberals nor conservatives recognize this openly, it may be because to do so would be to admit their own intellectual bankruptcy.  Yes, Obama gave a nice speech.  But unless this country’s real problems are identified and addressed, lecturing us on civility and empathy will have the same effect as a very good Sunday sermon — all but forgotten on Stormy Monday.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

inflammatus January 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

agree with everything here except the implicit connection to the arizona shooting when you talk about “set(ting) the stage for fascistic speech and violent behavior.” i don’t know all the facts about loughner’s biography, but from what i can tell, the only thing that could have kept him from killing people is if you couldn’t buy guns (or ammo) at every walmart in arizona. the idea that “inflammatory rhetoric” “led to” this is just what you said, it’s liberal mccarthyism–and it’s a logical corollary of the way liberals, in large numbers, have condemned wikileaks for its own breach of political “civility.”


Rich Rubenstein January 25, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Dear Inflammatus,
Hold on a second, compadre. I deliberately did NOT say that Loughboro’s acts were inspired by violent right wing rhetoric, since I have no idea what was in his head. I agree that to jump to this conclusion is a kind of mccarthyism. What I said was that the failure to solve basic social problems sets the stage for violence, which I think it does.
It’s also worth noting, though, that the connection between a political “atmosphere” and particular violent behaviors is not well understood. The deranged person who shot up the National Holocaust Museum, killing a guard, was apparently a long-time reader of anti-Semitic literature. There you have poison inside and outside the mind — some sort of connection, although certainly not a simple “outside cause” of his behavior. But you are right. One has to remain agnostic about Loughboro until we learn more about him.


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