Something that has lately started worrying me

Politics often features heated rhetoric. Hyperbolic language is often deliberately used by politicians in order to achieve more modest goals like electoral gains but, like a controlled burn in a forest that suddenly breaks its boundaries and wreaks havoc, it can take on a life of its own that its originators can no longer control.

I am used to such hyperbole and discount it. But I have noticed a trend over the last five years that worries me. It seems like the combination of Barack Obama winning the presidency twice and the extreme Tea Party wing dominating the Republican party has resulted in a dangerous and volatile rhetorical cocktail that could explode in nasty ways.

The attempts to delegitimize Obama’s presidency, with claims that he is not an American and is a Muslim socialist who is intent on handing over sovereignty of the US to the UN just as soon as he takes away people’s guns, is rightly seen as risible by any normal person. But there is no doubt that a significant number of people actually believe this nonsense and, fuelled by incendiary rhetoric from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News and the like, have not only developed a visceral animosity to government in all its forms but also harbor an intense dislike and suspicion of anyone not like them, and hate Obama in particular. There is no doubt a river of racism that runs beneath all of this.

We have to appreciate that these people are driven by fear and rage and many of them are heavily armed. What worries me is that perhaps one day a handful of these people are going to think of themselves as noble martyrs to the cause of freeing the country from tyranny, and go on a rampage or try to assassinate a major government figure in the hope of starting a popular uprising or a guerilla movement. This would be totally irrational and futile and they will be crushed by the massive power of the US military but they could cause serious damage in the interim.

I was never prey to such dark imaginings before but perhaps because of the spate of recent shootings, I have started becoming increasingly concerned in the last few years of this kind of scenario being played out. I sincerely hope I am wrong.


  1. machintelligence says

    Indeed. What ever happened to the “loyal opposition”.

    They might also want to think ahead, because an armed uprising would be just the thing to trigger mass firearm seizures (probably under martial law).

  2. Jared A says

    “What worries me is that perhaps one day a handful of these people are going to think of themselves as noble martyrs to the cause of freeing the country from tyranny, and go on a rampage or try to assassinate a major government figure in the hope of starting a popular uprising or a guerilla movement.”

    Isn’t this already what happened with Gabrielle Giffords? The gunman took their language and made it his own. What they dreamed he created.

    Here is a very poignant essay from the aftermath of that shooting that argues the connection between the violent language and metaphors (by politicians) and the “unrelated” violence that ensues:

  3. JagerBaBomb says

    In many ways, these disturbed individuals seem determined to bring about the future they claim they’re railing against. It’s perverse, but it also has it’s own twisted logic. Because if the worst actually does come to pass, then they were right all along and are thus validated.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    … fuelled by incendiary rhetoric from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News and the like, … a visceral animosity to government in all its forms …

    Back in the day, a friend of mine hypothesized that this was the underlying message/purpose of a tv show (which I never saw) called The X Files.

    ♪ ♪ ♫ Paranoia strikes deep … ♪ ♪ ♫

  5. Reginald Selkirk says

    What ever happened to the “loyal opposition”.

    That is a British term. Here in the U.S., the right wing is accustomed to labeling anyone who does not agree with them as “traitors.” Ironically, someone in the right wing Bush White House actually did commit treason (Valerie Plame affair).

  6. Some Old Programmer says

    I recall having the same grave reservations about the unhinged right during Clinton’s presidential terms. I remember the vicious slander against the Clintons suggesting the Vince Foster’s suicide was a Presidential assasination. The Clinton’s real-estate dealing in White Water being subject to extensive investigations (both legal and by conspiracy hobbyists). The vituperation Hillary Clinton came in for for the crime of being a woman with opinions and a desire to affect public policy.

    I also remember the “militia” and “Posse Comitatus” movements training for violent resistance to what they perceived to be government tyrany — which I take as a euphemism for Democrats exercising power.

    Granted that the ugly racist undercurrent that exists today wouldn’t seem to have been present. There was, however, an ugly classist tone to the attacks on the Clintons; it was communicated that they weren’t the right sort of people (also present during the Carter administration–Billy Beer anyone?).

    So I have a sense that I’ve seen this all before. I’m definitely not sanguine about the far right and their capacity for violence, but perhaps the spittle-flecked volume has only gone up incrementally. Or perhaps I’m whistling past the graveyard.

  7. Mano Singham says

    I too remember the Clinton madness but as I recall there the focus was on the evils of the Clintons as persons and not that they were the representatives of a tyrannical government that was going to destroy the American way of life. It is this latter aspect of the current rhetoric that I find worrisome.

  8. says

    I think part of the problem is that maybe we expect there to be a reset on these things, and there’s just not. It reached a certain level with Clinton and then I guess we thought it died down under Bush. It didn’t die down though, it just became a little less visible but stayed at the same pitch… it became the new normal. The right-wing never gives an inch though, so as soon as Democrats took control of the government it just ramped right back up and reached new levels of violence, and it will never get back to “normal” again.

  9. northstar says

    I agree. I have family who are evangelical and I run in homeschooler circles which can be pretty conservative, and the personal invective is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They are willing to believe — and share on social media– the most outrageous stories as if they are absolute truth. Just today I have seen 1) the teacher’s rant, calling Michelle Obama a fat, ugly gorilla responsible for 600 calorie lunches, and 2) somebody attributing directly to Barak Obama legislation allowing aborted fetuses to die, as if he, personally, is smothering babies. Daily I get fb posts on O raising taxes, protecting the Mumbai terrorists, etc. etc. The idea of criticizing *policy*, absolutely legitimate whatever one’s politics, doesn’t seem to occur to them. It’s all Obama and how loathsome he is. Then you get the people like Ted Nugent with his scary comments about law enforcement raising up and taking care of things peaceful-like if Obama comes for their guns… It all just seems like they are whipping themselves into a fervor and there’s always a nut who will take it to the next level. I really fear for the President and his family’s safety.

  10. otrame says

    I worry too, but I am old enough to remember when it was the extreme Left that talked about the evils of the government and when it was mostly radical leftists (as well as a few plain old mentally ill people) who tried to kill the president.

    I agree that the rhetoric is far more vituperative in the mainstream now than in those days, when most of the really ugly talk was person-to-person with a few publications. The internet and 24 hour news and talk radio provide a forum for the extremists in a way that wan’t there before.

    And I believe that most if not all of the over the top stuff is based on the fact that there is a black man in the White House who does not clean the toilets. Some people just can’t STAND that.

    In short, I also worry, but I suspect that in reality things aren’t all that much worse. We are just exposed to what was always there in the past bubbling away. I am quite sure there will be incidents (because there always are), but I hope not too bad.

  11. kyoseki says

    I’m a gun owner, which means I have to deal with people who share the same hobby and while they’re certainly in the minority, the level of rabid fanaticism I’ve seen out there really does concern me.

    I honestly don’t know how we change this conversation.

  12. Charles Sullivan says

    You could be right, but I think the gun-people are more bark than bite. Still, their loud barking can provoke the mentally unstable. Most Tea-partiers would probably get more upset if you took away their cable TV, rather than their guns.

  13. Psychopomp Gecko says

    Don’t forget, people have already tried to assassinate President Obama. Wikipedia’s got a list, though I think the most serious was the guy who was arrested for firing at some rooms of the White House. The President and First Lady weren’t even there at the time, but are there many other reasons to shoot for White House windows?

    It’s not like he saw they were dirty through a scope and figured he’d clean them off a bit with his rifle.

    The right wing has really gone bonkers here lately. I’m all for having an opposing party or two or three to champion the cause of limitations of government (that would be really useful in the drug debate, abortion debate, and when dealing with the NDAA) but we don’t have that. We have a party that claims to be that while ignoring every bit of it when they’re in office, and instead making Sarah Palin (“Hillary did really good. Let’s pick a woman so they’ll vote for her instead. Qualifications only matter if you’re a Dem anyway.”), Michele Bachmann (So opposed to gay marriage, she married a gay guy herself), Rick Perry (so bad a governer, he prayed for rain and the state caught on fire), Mitt Romney (“Jeeves, why don’t you run the polls again and tell me how great I am?”) , Newt Gingrich (Soon we will steal…THE MOON!), Rick Santorum (Proof positive they won’t ever have the elite, smart people on their side), and Herman Cain (Turns out he WAS the flavor of the month) the faces of the party over the course of one wacky primary season.

  14. kevinalexander says

    ….This would be totally irrational and futile and they will be crushed by the massive power of the US military ….

    Go over to Rock Beyond Belief and see that these crazies are more than a little represented IN the US military.

  15. garnetstar says

    Absolutely correct. I thought when Paul Ryan came out with “If Obama’s re-elected, he will destroy Western Judeo-Christian civilization”, that someone’s going to die as a result of this.

    And it’s right on the brink now that Obama’s been declared a king and a tyrant, by Rand Paul, Fox News, and WND. He’s finally going to take away our ability to resist monarchy, as they’ve been screaming for the last four years. It’s part of the American psyche that the only righteous course of action against a tyrant is violent rebellion.

    People are going to die, have already died, because of the completely irresponsible and despicable rhetorice of the right. Sarah Palin putting gunsights on her map of of Democrats in office wasn’t a harmless metaphor.

    It’s just like the infamous website “The Nuremberg Files” who named abortion doctors as war criminals. Lo and behold, at least one doctor was murdered (they then put a red cross through his picture on the website, implying one down, the rest to go). The site was ruled inflammatory and inciting to violence, and they were made to take it down.

    Would a solution that simple could be used against these others who are inciting fearful people to violence.

  16. says

    One important step would be to stop trying to duck the bullshit. It would be refreshing (and, I think, helpful) if President Obama addressed some of this stuff and just said, “would you cut it out? it’s stupid. please stop taking advantage of my dignity, just because you have none…” It’d probably get the media all riled up about the controversy of taking up such topics head on. Right now the only people speaking out in favor of rational speech in the media happen to be comedians – and that’s all KINDS of fucked up.

  17. Timothy says

    While I do not always agree with President Obama, one of the main reasons I respect him is that he was/is willing to put his and his family’s life on the line in the face of this horrific racism.

    I don’t know if I would be as brave.

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