Point of View Columns

Eyes Wide Shut

In writing about the firestorm of vitriol and bile and pure hate that flowed after the passage of the healthcare bill two weeks ago, I wrote that some of the crowds of opposition, the right wing of the right wing, were one noose and a flaming torch short of a lynch mob. I stand corrected.

          We are witnessing the absolute proliferation of new jack twenty first century lynch mobs, launched on the internet and talk radio and pseudo news stations across this country. And we are witnessing it with our eyes wide shut. While protestors storm the Capitol and spit and curse legislators, we are supposed to be mollified by the Republican leaders asking us whether we want to believe them or our lying eyes.

          We are witnessing a souring and a curdling of public discourse and debate that has very few historic equivalents in this country. One remembers the crowds at that high school in Little Rock and at that lunch counter in North Carolina and at all those Greyhound bus stations in Alabama and Mississippi and one wonders could we be seeing a reprise. And we watch this transformation from contention to dissension to the vilest sort of anarchical expression with our eyes wide shut.

          It is almost impossible to engage in hyperbole in describing the transformative deterioration taking place in this country. We read stories of a demented band of “Christian warriors” planning to kill police in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana in preparation for the coming of the anti-Christ. And that story is right next to poll results that show that 24% of self-identified Republicans believe, believe, that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. We read about the upcoming celebrations of Waco, Texas – Branch Davidian holocaust and the bombing of the federal office in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh and wonder when did Timothy McVeigh become a martyr? And when did self-immolation by a crazed religious zealot become the cause for celebration?

          And through it all, winking and wisecracking and mangling the English language to a fare thee well, Sarah Palin continues to foment the anger, stirring the bile, egging on the susceptible and beguiling the gullible with her folksy poison. Her references to “real America” are as transparent as her misbegotten logic. How she became the determining voice of “real America” is not clear, but in her “real America” people of color do not exist, in her “real America” there is no need for universal health care for all citizens (a right that exists in every industrialized nation on this planet), in her “real America” its o.k. to carry a gun to go hear the President of the United States speak and then go to Starbucks. In her “real America” it is just fine and dandy and okey dokey to refer to “reloading” when launching political attacks and marking political targets with gun sights to provide clarity for the overly obtuse faction of her misguided followers.

          Watching Sarah Palin in Searchlight, Nevada last week, she led a hyper charged crowd that had ambitions of becoming a mob. She engaged in clichés and sound bites and rhetorical voyages that were far from fact but were logical in the fictional “real America” in which she resides. And as I watched her winking and wisecracking routine, dressed in a black leather jacket, I thought of Leni Riefenstahl and Thomas Paine.

          Media has always played a role in revolution. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense articulated the voice of the American Revolution, but the technology that drove the media allowed for his tracts to be printed and distributed and widely read. It is fair to say that the American Revolution was inextricably linked to the media of that era. Without the media there may not have been a successful American Revolution.

          Leni Riefenstahl used cinema to provide an image of the Third Reich that branded the German psyche with a glorified image of the Nazi movement. A brand that was indelible for over a decade. A brand that could not be eradicated until a most awful rain of death and destruction fell upon Germany. Again, it is fair to say that the use of media gave the Third Reich its foundation and created a reality in which madness could run free.

          And now we see Sarah Palin and the tea partiers and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the tea baggers and the right wing of the right wing hijacking the media of today to foment some sort of revolution that will restore the “real America” to its former glory. And the media of today is not just the printed word and movies, it is television and Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and e-mail and text messages and robo-calls and…………the list is literally endless. And the media is now being used without regard to fact, morality or responsibility.

          And so Congressmen are spat upon and cursed and their homes are targeted by semi-psychopathic supporters of the right wing of the right wing. We see the police being viewed as targets by militia members who love their guns more than they love your life or mine. And all the while we watch the winking and wisecracking and the seemingly guileless references to violence that are supposed to be “metaphors”. Except in the “real America”, metaphors don’t exist. And in the “real America” of Sarah Palin and the right wing of the right wing, “reload” and cross-hair targets are not symbolic. They are calls to action. And we are watching it all with our eyes wide shut.

          God bless America. And God help us all.

Wallace Ford is the Principal of Fordworks Associates, a New York-based management consulting firm and is the author of two novels, The Pride and What You Sow.