Revolt of the Masses
The Republican candidates now sound like the spokesmen for the hysterical crowds in any number of old Twilight Zone episodes, the guys who insist we should string the malefactor up right away or burn down the stranger’s house or perhaps tattoo a barcode on the alien’s forearm. They endorse paranoia, fear of people who don’t look like us, blind patriotism, unprovoked aggression against other countries, obscurantism, anti-intellectualism, vigilantism, and even the use of torture. They may not all do it in a clown suit, but they’re all doing it. Moderate Republicans are officially extinct.
It was easy in the day to make fun of Rod Sterling’s liberal pieties, what we used to call the nicely, nicely; but his moral lessons don’t sound so schoolmarmish now that music redolent of the lynch mob resounds so loudly through the land, often enough from the podium in the House and Senate. I understand that the murder rate has recently lurched upwards after a long decline, but the escalation of political rhetoric strikes me as a better indicator of a premeditated reversion to barbarism because it is particularly significant when elites go bad. Political stupidity is, like any other liberation from inhibition, a pleasure. On the evidence, many people are finding it very hard to resist temptation; and the usual suspects are on hand to push the good stuff and use all the latest technologies of persuasion to market the product. The demagogues can now be followed on Twitter, multiplied holographically on CNN, piped into every beer bar in Christendom on Fox. What we have here is a case of progression in the service of the Id.
I rant not because I think the bad guys are necessarily going to win this time, but because one of these days they very well may. All it would take is some bad timing on the part of the business cycle or a meaningless sex scandal or some other glitch. And if they do win, there’s no guarantee that the traditional Conservatives who just want to safeguard their wealth and screw the unions will be able to contain the folks they have so efficiently riled up. Besides, by now some of them believe their own nonsense—consistent hypocrisy requires a level of self discipline few can maintain for long. What worries me is that America is not going to remain the white bread nation the right thinks it remembers. In the face of this inevitable change, I find it hard to believe that our reactionary populists won’t eventually act out violently, perhaps in concert with European groups also caught up in a similar state of cultural despair. I guess we’ll simply have to manage the outbreaks as best we can and wait for time to change the subject, though a policy of domestic containment is likely to be as nerve racking as the Cold War original.