Back in April of this year I focused on the Rise of the Uniformed Right Wing on GDAE Podcast Episode 11. Observers of the "tea parties" at that time noticed an element that was reminiscent of the vocal, violent fringe who had attended Sarah Palin rallies during the presidential campaign. I recently re-visited the topic in Episode 16. This was all before the recent spat of right-wing disruptions of congressional town hall meetings on health care.
Yes, as is being discussed everywhere, that fringe element is back in action, shouting down people who want to discuss health care reform options. This is just the latest manifestation of what happens when an uninformed segment of society is manipulated by right wing talk radio and well-funded organizations like "Americans for Prosperity" run by people like Tim Phillips who counts among his "close friends" Ralph Reed. Phillips and Reed make big bucks pretending to be friends of the common man (and woman), but are actually in the business of duping the common man on behalf of their wealthy clients.
It's not only sad to see people hyperventilating as they parrot the dubious health care debate talking points, it's scary. I spoke to someone in Senator Boxer's office who said people are calling in who are angry and frightened, who have their facts confused, some of whom are crying and most of whom are unwilling or able to listen to reason. It's frightening because societies, yes even the "exceptional" United States, can descend into barbarism. Although that phrase is used to describe the descent of pre-WWII Germany, it applies to many cases in which average citizens are whipped into an unthinking frenzy, which gets out of the control of those who incited them: The killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970s, the rampant death squad activities of Central America in the 1980s, the insanity in the former Yogoslavia and Rawanda in the 199os.
I sense that the US is on the brink. Yes, democracy is one of the first victims; civil discourse is shouted down, or worse, is self-censored due to a literal fear of violence at town hall meetings. It's only a matter of time until someone is killed, which is followed by a negative feedback process that spirals deeper down a path of revenge killings that is difficult to stop. I suspect the process has started... the murder of George Tiller is a case in point.
The solution is education and the building of networks of people who can help stop it if it starts. It might be impossible to educate some of the most unhinged people, but it is possible to reach some of the more sober people around them who might be able to serve a moderating role. If the fire starts, we'll need a network of people who can serve as fire breaks to stop it. Otherwise, the descent into barbarism could very well play out in the United States.
Photo by Andrew Meares depicts people of middle east appearance being attacked by mobs in December 2005 in Sydney Australia's Cronulla Beach area.