When governing gets dangerous

The US flag over the Capitol building flies at...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

It is time for rational voices in both parties to speak out forecefully.

These are incendiary times in America, fueled by the unrelenting insistence of the Republican Party to try to turn political defeat to advantage and an increasingly large percentage of Americans who have walled themselves off  from fact-based reality.

If you think that hyperbolic, look no further than the lead paragraph this Washington Post report out of the nation’s capitol.

“The pitched battle over health care has unleashed a rash of vandalism and attacks directed at politicians, with at least 10 House Democrats reporting death threats or incidents of harassment or vandalism at their district offices over the past week.”

What’s behind this?  In large part, the cynical manipulation of ignorant people by right wing media and conservative politicians who should know better. Words mean something. And when extreme words are not challenged — words like “death panels,” for example — they create fear and anger in those incapable or unwilling to seek facts or follow news beyond reports of people like Glenn Beck, one of the premier propagandists of our time.

On Tuesday, the Harris Poll released the complete result of a poll of 2,320 randomly selected adults previewed Monday in the Daily Beast.  How irrational are Americans?  Harris finds:

More than 20% believe (President Obama) was not born in the United States, that he is “the domestic enemy the U.S. Constitution speaks of,” that he is racist and anti-American, and that he “wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers.” Fully 20% think he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” while 14% believe “he may be the anti-Christ” and 13% think “he wants the terrorists to win.”

That is right — more than 1 in 5 believe the president is a “domestic enemy.” That is frightening.

Though these people, largely poorly educated, disproportionately self-identify as Republicans, they come from both parties.  They are not merely misinformed. They live in the fringe ether of the dangerously deluded conspiracy theorist, people who cannot be persuaded by factual evidence and more than likely haven’t even considered it.  These are the “wingnuts” of John Avlon’s new book, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America.

And judging from the violence and threats chronicled in The Post  and the virulent racism and homophobia of Saturday’s protests, it’s time for American to not only take them seriously but to speak out — across party lines — against them. Americans — Republicans in particular — who remain silent are not merely tolerating these activities, they are condoning them.

If violence begets violence, silence can, too.

POSTSCRIPT:

A friend reminds me on Facebook of this poem by the German theologian Martin Niemöller.  Let’s hope politicians, the press and ordinary people keep speaking out so that this country never approaches what he experienced:

“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

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About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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