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Danziger: Which Way The Wind Blows

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Anti-Government Resistance Now The Beating Heart Of GOP

Some folks thought it was “inflammatory.” Some said it was “irresponsible,” others, “absurd,” still others, “disappointing.”

Those are some of the words affronted conservatives used in emails last month to describe my column on the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In it, I noted how Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism shed light on a movement of like-minded zealots motivated, as he was, by hatred of the federal government and rejection of its authority.

“Twenty years ago,” I wrote, “the idea of anti-government resistance seemed confined to a lunatic fringe operating in the shadows beyond the mainstream. Twenty years later, it is the mainstream, the beating heart of the Republican Party. And while certainly no responsible figure on the right advocates or condones what he did, it is just as certain that McVeigh’s violent antipathy toward Washington, his conviction that America’s government is America’s enemy, has bound itself to the very DNA of modern conservatism.”

That’s the argument conservatives found “hateful” “sickening,” and “dishonest.”

So it is, depending upon your religious outlook, a fortuitous coincidence or superfluous evidence of God’s puckish sense of humor that a few days later comes news of conservatives accusing the federal government of trying to take over the state of Texas. It seems the four branches of the U.S. military are gearing up for Operation Jade Helm 15, an eight-week training exercise across seven states. Right-wing conspiracy theorists online and on radio are claiming the exercise is actually a pretext for a federal takeover of the Lone Star State, with — get this — abandoned Walmarts to be used for the processing of prisoners!

Nor is this being laughed off by conservatives in positions of authority. To the contrary, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the state guard to monitor the exercise to safeguard Texan’s “civil liberties.” Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has asked the military to change the exercise. Senator and presidential wannabe Ted Cruz said he checked with the Pentagon and while he accepts that it has no plans to conquer Texas — how magnanimous of him — “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty” because the Obama administration “has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy.”

Forgive me if I don’t spend a lot of space pointing out that this is stupid, though I can’t resist asking: If the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force were, indeed, planning to take over Texas, just what does Gov. Abbott think the state guard would be able to do about it?

There is, however, a more pressing observation to be made. After all, chances are good you’ve never heard about any of this — the story hasn’t garnered major headlines — and that, hearing of it now, you are not terribly surprised. That speaks pointedly of how inured we have become to the insane, paranoiac, anti-government prattle flowing like sewage from the political right. Duly elected leaders, putatively responsible people, give credence to the crazy idea that the federal government is about to attack its second most populous state and we shrug because it’s just another Tuesday in the lunatic asylum of American politics.

Look, I get it: No one wants to be compared to McVeigh. And I’ll repeat: No one in a position of responsibility embraces his prescription of terrorist violence. But it seems to me beyond argument that in the philosophical struggle for the soul of conservatism, he lost the battle and won the war. Much of what now passes for conservatism proceeds from extremes of government loathing that would have stunned Ronald Reagan himself.

Some of my readers used many colorful words to characterize that argument. Here’s the word I’d use:

Obvious.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Matthew Prosser via Flickr

Why Did Texas Politicians Cave In To Delusional Paranoia?

The real news isn’t that many Texans seemingly subscribe to an apocalyptic, delusional worldview, one that has them convinced that a U.S Army training exercise called “Jade Helm 15” is the opening wedge of an Obama-led coup d’etat — seizing guns, importing thousands of ISIS fighters to subdue local patriots, and throwing dissenters into FEMA concentration camps.

Because where else would you start a military takeover but the strategic hamlet of Bastrop, Texas, commanding the crucial highway junction between Elgin and LaGrange? Never mind that Fort Hood, the largest U.S. military installation in the world, is maybe 75 miles up the road. Bastrop is the linchpin.

No, the real news is that name-brand Texas politicians such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz think it’s smart to lend plausibility to what is essentially a mass psychiatric delusion. Did you know that even Walmart’s involved? Rumor says recently closed stores are being refitted as barracks for foreign soldiers.

After a raucous hearing in Bastrop, during which a regular Army colonel who pointed out that he’d served five presidents over 27 years got accused of lying and shouted down, Gov. Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor U.S. Army war games this summer.

This so that “Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”

Probably because there’s lithium in the water, stuff like this rarely happens out in El Paso — home of Fort Bliss, the 1,700-square mile HQ of the First Armored Division. But just across the border in Chihuahua, according to the Family Research Council, there’s a secret ISIS base with thousands of terrorists poised to strike. Hundreds of miles of underground tunnels have been dug to facilitate the invasion.

Also lending support to the nutball faction was Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who expressed support for Abbott’s leadership.

“I understand the concern that’s been raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm,” Cruz said. “…I think part of the reason is, we have seen for six years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens and that produces fear. When you see a federal government that is attacking our free speech rights, our religious liberty rights, our Second Amendment rights… That produces distrust as to government.”

Hey Ted, Republicans lost two presidential elections. Grow up. Arkansas’ own Mike Huckabee plays to similar fears with gratuitous twaddle about “criminalizing Christianity.” All this really amounts to, as Paul Krugman puts it, is fear that Obama will “seize control of [Texas] and force its citizens to accept universal health care at gunpoint.”

Look, it’s not just Texas. Mad conspiracy theories are nothing new in American politics. Historian Rick Perlstein’s book Before the Storm describes a similar paranoid outbreak in 1963. A California GOP senator complained about an avalanche of “’fright mail,’ mostly centering on two astonishingly widespread rumors: that Chinese commandos were training in Mexico for an invasion of the United States through San Diego; and that 100,000 UN troops — 16,000 of them ‘African Negro troops, who are cannibals’ [sic] — were secretly rehearsing in the Georgia swamps under the command of a Russian colonel for a UN martial-law takeover of the United States.”

Back then it was President John F. Kennedy, an Irish-Catholic Democrat, who afflicted the John Birch Society with fear of The Other. Today, it’s President Obama scaring an Austin-based talk radio and Internet conspiracy theorist called Alex Jones.

Richard Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” explains: “I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

Left-wing paranoia is not unknown. However, in America paranoid mass movements are almost entirely a right-wing phenomenon, partly because they fit so well with the melodramatic themes of Protestant fundamentalism.

“The paranoid spokesman,” Hofstadter added, “sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.”

Is that not totally Ted Cruz?

But you know what? Ted Cruz ain’t Texas.

Early indications are that Cruz and Abbott are widely perceived to have made fools of themselves. Coverage in the statewide press has been derisive. A retired GOP legislator, Todd Smith of Euless, wondered if he should be more “horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.”

Good question.

Screenshot: Austin American-Statesman

Right-Wing Extremism: Not Just For Radicals Anymore

On Sunday, it will be 20 years since the morning a bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and took 168 human lives. Nineteen of those lives belonged to children.

Maybe it takes you by surprise that it has been so long. Maybe you wonder where the time went. And maybe you remember…

…the ghastly pictures of that building, the front of it sheared away.

…the firefighter emerging from the rubble, tenderly cradling that dying baby.

…the bloody and lacerated people wandering dazedly from the wreckage.

…the breathless speculation that surely the culprits had to be Muslims.

And maybe you remember, too, that sense of vertiginous shock some people felt when we got our first look at the man who planted the bomb and discovered him to be, not a swarthy Muslim with a heavy beard and hard-to-pronounce name, but a clean-cut, apple pie-faced young white man named Timothy McVeigh. People could not have been more nonplussed if Richie Cunningham had shot up a shopping mall.

But the tragedy was to contain one last surprise. It came when we learned why McVeigh committed his atrocity. It seems he hated the government.

That revelation was our introduction to a world whose very existence most of us had never suspected. Meaning the so-called patriot movement, the armed, radical right-wing extremists who refuse to recognize the authority of the nation’s duly constituted and elected government. Maybe you remember the news reports of how they spent nights and weekends drilling in the woods, playing soldier in anticipation of the day ZOG — the Zionist Occupied Government — ceded the country to the United Nations and soldiers of the New World Order came rappelling down from black helicopters to seize everybody’s guns. Maybe you remember how crazy it all sounded.

But that was then. Twenty years ago, the idea of anti-government resistance seemed confined to a lunatic fringe operating in the shadows beyond the mainstream. Twenty years later, it is the mainstream, the beating heart of the Republican Party. And while certainly no responsible figure on the right advocates or condones what he did, it is just as certain that McVeigh’s violent antipathy toward Washington, his conviction that America’s government is America’s enemy, has bound itself to the very DNA of modern conservatism.

It lives in Grover Norquist’s pledge to shrink government down until “we can drown it in the bathtub,” in Chuck Norris’ musing about the need for “a second American revolution,” in Michele Bachmann’s fear that the census is an evil conspiracy. It lives in dozens of right-wing terror plots documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center since the 1995 bombing, including last year’s murder of two police officers and a Walmart shopper by two anti-government activists in Las Vegas. It lives in Cliven Bundy’s armed standoff with federal officials.

These days, it is an article of faith on the political right that “government” is a faceless, amorphous Other. But this government brought itself into being with three words — “We the people” — and they are neither incidental nor insignificant. Our government may be good, may be bad, may be something in between, but as long as we are a free society, the one thing it always is, is us. Meaning: a manifestation of our common will, a decision a majority of us made. We are allowed to be furious at it, but even in fury, we always have peaceful tools for its overthrow. So there is never a reason to do what McVeigh did.

We all know that, of course. But 20 years after the day they brought babies out of the rubble in pieces would be an excellent time to pause and remind ourselves, just the same.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch, Nevada. Screenshot via YouTube/The Alex Jones Channel