The more things change, the more they remain the same. When French journalist and novelist Alphonse Karr said this in 1849, he spoke more truth then he could have possibly imagined at that time. Particularly in America where it sometimes appears that for every one step we collectively take forward, there are those who wish to take us a dozen steps backwards.
What I am alluding to is this: Our nation’s history seems to a certain extent to be tied to a peculiar pathology that insists on defining our collective identity to who we are NOT as least as much if not more so than who we ARE. This is a vicious undercurrent that defines both our domestic and foreign policies. With it, politicians, preachers and businessmen have engaged in psychological warfare to put forth their narrow agendas by dividing the country against itself with fear, suspicion paranoia and hate.
Although this dynamic has existed since this country’s inception, it seems to worsen with each generation. We are now more divided as a nation than we were during the Civil War. From Reconstruction onwards, but especially after World War I, the fear and hate mongers have managed to keep its citizens in a perpetual state of confusion and terror by defining WHO we are supposed to fear and hate, both at home an abroad.
In the years leading up to WWI, the media and the pulpit directed hatred towards the early feminists who marched in the Suffragette movement. America was told that these women were dangerous radicals who would undermine the family and destroy the country from within. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Communism became our official enemy and the specter of evil, Godless communists struck fear in the hearts of most Americans.
Thus it remained until the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, where Blacks now replaced woman as those who would undermine America from within. But since the Civil Rights movement began to peak just as the McCarthy hearings had wound down, the fear mongers cynically exploited these twin fears by claiming that all of the movements’ leaders were also communists. During the 1920’s through the 1940’s, there were indeed some prominent Black intellectuals, writers and scholars who were communist party members, notably W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright and Paul Robeson. But for the most part, Black America wanted nothing to do with communism.
However, that did not stop the likes of J. Edgar Hoover with attempts of slowing or stopping civil rights gains by claiming that anyone fighting for change was a rabble-rousing communist. One of the results of this campaign was civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin being forced out of the movement on the eve of the March On Washington (where Dr. King delivered his keynote “I Have a Dream” speech) in 1963, despite being one of the principal architects of the march. Although the communist label stuck to him, ironically it was the fact that he was gay that forced Dr. King to accept his resignation (never mind the hypocrisy that Hoover himself was a closeted gay).
In 1964, a major paradigm shift occurred with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When President Johnson signed the voting act that year, he presciently stated: “We’ve (the Democrats) just lost the South for 100 years.” From 1968 onwards and every voting cycle since then, the American south became solidly Republican, primarily due to conservative preachers and politicians convincing southern whites that the Democratic party now belonged to blacks and Jews, using both overt and covertly racist language to convince racist whites that their interests lied with the Republican party, and thus began the radical political realignment that culminated with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
By the end of the 1980’s however, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and with it the collapse of global communism, the conservative fear mongers needed a new global target, since the communist threat no longer would suffice. With the anticipated shift in the defense budget to starving social programs, many liberals and moderates waited in vain for the appearance of the “peace dividend” that never materialized. Thus, the invasions of Panama and Iraq. But the first Gulf War only lasted a few weeks, and in truth, only existed to boost the first President Bush’s sagging poll numbers, and also to establish an American military presence in the Middle East in addition to Israel.
During this time frame, many ultra-conservative preachers came to national prominence, almost exclusively by preaching fiery sermons against abortion and gay rights. Thus, on the domestic front, gays and lesbians replaced women and blacks as the new demons that would destroy America from within. Sermons and editorials about Sodomites and pedophiles, perverts and predators, out to “convert” impressionable teenagers to the “homosexual lifestyle” became commonplace. But the conservatives STILL needed a new foreign demon, a new all-purpose villain on the global scene.
On September 11, 2001, that all changed.
The “war on terror” is in reality a thinly disguised war on Islam itself. Sane and rational people know that the hateful, murderous Islamic radicals do NOT speak for mainstream Muslims any more than cross-burning, church and clinic bombing white racists speak for mainstream Christians. But you would not know that if you only listen to FOX news or conservative hate radio.
If you want a good indicator on how little our government’s thinking has changed in the last 75 years, just look up any speech that rails against communists and replace it with “terrorists”. Or vice versa. Communists hiding behind every rock, terrorists hiding behind every tree. The absolute insistence that ALL communists and ALL terrorists are sub-human and evil incarnate. Now compare THAT rhetoric with that against female suffragettes, circa 1900-1920, blacks circa 1930-1965, and gays and lesbians in the last 30 years. But for all the smoke and mirrors about terrorism, NOT ONCE did President Bush speak a SINGLE word about domestic terrorism. What are the Klan, the Neo-Nazis, the Aryan Resistance movement, the skinheads and the neo-militias BUT terrorist organizations? Is it JUST because they are NOT Muslims but are ALL straight, white, conservative, Christian males? This is NOT just a rhetorical question. It goes to the heart of why our domestic policies have scarcely progressed since Reconstruction and why our own foreign policy is the #1 reason more and more Muslim terrorists are created each and every day.
Denial and wholesale demonization do NOT make good policy. Never has, never will. It just destroys anyone it ensnares. But those in power remain in power by counting on its citizens NOT being able to think for themselves and to continue to fear and despise all who are different. Until we demand a change in leadership and direction, and actually pay attention to what is really going on, most people will continue to be manipulated and blindsided by these agendas. And to continue to do so is to simply be blind sheep and willing participants in our own inevitable slaughter.