Anger mongers and fear mongers are good at pushing buttons in us, and getting us to do things that make no sense. And so our democracy often makes no sense…
Conservatives were delighted to see Obama go. Well, most conservatives. There were some hard-right conservatives who probably wept when he left.
The gun manufacturers.
Obama was wildly profitable for them. When Obama was in office, gun sales averaged over 50,000 per day. That’s almost 150 million firearms while he was in office, in a country of just over 320M. The gun industry grew over 150% — i.e., today it is 2½ times as large as it was — during the time Obama was in office. And the gun makers were gleefully planning for even greater profits under Hillary.
It was a cushy set-up. Obama only had to mention the most modest of gun reforms, the gun manufacturers would push buttons, and the lie factory instantly started flooding social media: “Obama’s going to take your guns!!”
And sales jumped, every time. The anger mongers and the fear mongers never failed. 8 years later, Obama never proposed confiscating a single weapon, but the gun owners never figured out the scam. Who cares if a few dozen kids were murdered here and there? The stockholders and the executives in the gun industry were making a killing.
Excuse me, a profit.
The True Believers
Working on my book, I don’t get much ‘fun’ reading. It isn’t all that bad, because the reading I have to do is pretty interesting. Recently I stumbled across Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Hoffer was a self-educated intellectual. He lost his eyesight when he was small, and it inexplicably returned when he was older. He began reading everything he could lay his hands on, afraid that he might lose his eyesight again. Even though he lived as a hobo for some years, he held library cards in dozens of towns. In his tramps, he met a lot of people who were very poor, and were understandably angry.
Hoffer later became a longshoreman, where he experienced anger in a different strata. In his book he says a lot of things that are surprising at first, but obvious in reflection. The one that is important here is that, it is not the poor who are angry, and prey to fear mongers.
It’s the newly poor.
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Economy
But looking around today, I have to amend Hoffer. Also prey to anger mongers are also the maybe-just-someday-might-be poor.
I starting thinking about this when I saw an article in Politico, ‘GOP Delegates Say the Economy Is Terrible—Except Where They Live‘. Here were all of these delegates who insisted that the economy was tanking under Obama, even though confounding evidence was right in front of them.
That attitude is not unusual, of course. Research has shown repeatedly that Americans distrust Congress, but trust their own Congressmen.
And in my field, patients mistrust doctors, but are generally quite happy with their own.
The Mexican Terror
Then there is the horror of the Mexican horde1)‘Horde’ originally referred to Genghis Khan and his followers, and the word comes from the Turkish word for ‘camp’, or ‘army’. The modern language of Urdu is a derivative. which is flooding across the border, and drowning our contrary with drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.
And some, we assume, are good people.
Here’s the fascinating thing about that perceived threat. Apparently, before Trump’s beatific descent from his pecuniary heaven — on an escalator, no less! — illegal Mexican immigrants weren’t on much of any conservative’s list of concerns. But suddenly Trump says it’s a yuge problem, and he’s going to fix it, he’s going to build a wall.
And Mexico’s gonna pay for it.
A rich, famous anger monger pushes buttons, and all of these impoverished Mexican immigrants who have been living among us for decades, cleaning our homes, caring for our children, building our buildings, and picking our lettuce, instantly become public enemy #1. Never mind that the numbers of Mexicans in the USA were already declining when Trump pointed to the problem. Never mind that a wall is probably an impractical and overpriced way to deal with the relatively minor problem of illegal Mexicans. Trump tells us they’re a big problem, we need to listen. He’s rich. And hey, all rich people are smart.
As Alexander Pope remarked three centuries ago, “We may see the small Value God has for Riches, by the People he gives them to.”
The Lie Factory
In the 15th century, as the Renaissance was coming into full bloom in Italy, the Papacy became a coveted position for the wealthy and powerful. The church had only recently thrown off the crisis precipitated by the anti-Pope John XXIII2)Pope John XXIII of the 20th century, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, re-took the name and rehabilitated it. a man who is believed to have been a pirate in his earlier career. The political intrigues would continue, and later in the century, during The Great Schism, three men would claim to be pope.
In the middle of all of this, Papal secretaries were required to be both clerks and propagandists, disseminating doctrine to the faithful, and obfuscating and dissimulating in response to any reports of intrigues and scandals within Rome and elsewhere. The secretaries’ office became known as il Bugiale: ‘The Lie Factory’.
Jump forward five centuries. Coming out of WWII, Truman proposed government-sponsored health care. It was wildly popular, or at least it was at first. To block Truman, however, powerful interests turned to Campaigns, Inc., the world’s first political consultancy firm, invented only the decade before. This modern Lie Factory pushed buttons, and convinced Americans that Truman was actually trying to impose socialism on us, and take away our freedoms. Opinion quickly turned, the initiative failed, and today the US spends 17% of its GDP on healthcare, the highest in the world. We are followed by such political heavyweights as Tuvalu (16.5%), the Maldives (13.7%) and Micronesia (13.7%). Meanwhile, the world’s other advanced countries expend between 9% and 11% of their GDP on medical care.
Here we are, 80 years later, and the hard right still screams that those other governments are failed socialist regimes, with failed healthcare systems, when the data overwhelmingly paint a very different picture.
And then there’s this book by Sean Hannity, Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. Hannity is clever; it was not by carelessness that he equated liberals with despots and terrorists. He meant it. Before continuing, please consider this amazing offer:
He pushes buttons and his viewers and readers believe that the three are all the same thing.
Liberals are in disagreement with conservatives about the course of democracy; despots and terrorists want to destroy democracy altogether. There is no equivalency here, liberals are not intentionally sabotaging our way of life. They simply see another way forward, one that is quite modest compared to almost every advanced, modern democracy. Which includes, yes, those with better healthcare than we have.
Hannity’s accusations are not some respectful gentleman’s disagreement about the form of democracy; this is not Philadelphia in the swelter of the 1776 summer. No, Hannity is ripping at the fabric of our society, he is dividing, damaging, and even destroying our country.
So what’s in it for Hannity? Book sales. Narcissism. Arrogance. The glee of elevating himself by denigrating others. That wouldn’t be a problem if others didn’t believe him.
It wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t work.
Obama never came for the guns. The economy grew rapidly under his administration. Mexican criminals are not the greatest problem we face, nor even one of the greatest. Our healthcare system is not only unaffordable, but we can’t even have intelligent discussions about it.
And liberals are certainly not terrorists nor despots.
People are afraid of losing what they have, or even losing what they never really had. Hermann Göring said it well “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked. It works the same in every country.”3)“The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”
It is easy to whip people into action, push buttons, tell them there’s a simple solution, and get them to follow you. It is easy to scare people. It is easy to divide them and reap great profit. We must ask ourselves, How can we stop them? How might we put aside our differences, and face the real threats to who we are, and what we stand for?
It is time to turn our backs on the scare mongers and the fear mongers, and cut off their profits and their power.
Caricature of Donald Trump courtesy of DonkeyHotey under a Creative Commons license.
|↑ 1.||‘Horde’ originally referred to Genghis Khan and his followers, and the word comes from the Turkish word for ‘camp’, or ‘army’. The modern language of Urdu is a derivative.|
|↑ 2.||Pope John XXIII of the 20th century, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, re-took the name and rehabilitated it.|
|↑ 3.||“The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”|