Friday, October 16, 2009

Right-wing anger rages as nation's power fades

By Gary Younge

In August 2007, Esquire ran a cover of John Edwards with the question: "Can a white man still be elected president?" That the headline made any sense at all is a testament to the assumptions that prevail about who is entitled to the job. Of the 17 presidential candidates in both main parties, 14 were white men -- 32 percent of the population, 82 percent of the candidates, 100 percent of the past presidents. These are the kinds of odds that would make Kim Jong Il's election agent smile. Back then, with Barack Obama trailing Hillary Clinton and both trailing Rudy Giuliani in the polls, the lash had not yet been wielded. But the backlash was already beginning.

Today it is in full swing. Right-wingers have turned up at Obama's events carrying guns. Facebook recently pulled a poll asking, "Should Obama be killed?" with choices of yes, no, maybe and "If he cuts my health care." This was clearly anticipated by Apollo Braun, a Manhattan store owner, whose "Who Killed Obama?" T-shirts were his most popular even before the election.

In between came gun-toting protesters at town hall meetings and official events. One of them carried a placard saying, "It is time to water the tree of liberty" -- a reference to Thomas Jefferson's famous quote: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." It's the same quote Timothy McVeigh was wearing on his T-shirt when he was arrested for bombing the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

From the time Obama declared he was running, the primary concern among African Americans was the same as the one expressed by Alma Powell as her husband, Colin Powell, contemplated running in 1996 -- assassination. Now it appears those dark fears have become, in some quarters, white fantasies.

How real these threats are and how many people are behind them is anybody's guess. They are certainly part of a trend.

In April, a Homeland Security report, "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," concluded: "The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment." It also surmised that "rightwing extremist groups' frustration over a perceived lack of government action on illegal immigration has the potential to incite individuals or small groups toward violence."

In any case, as 9/11 showed, you don't need that many people to send the world into turmoil.

What is truly stunning is the degree to which these marginal voices are explicitly sustained and implicitly condoned by the mainstream. Rarely condemned by Congressional Republicans, the rage has been galvanized by the sum of the slanders from the right-wing echo chamber.

After all, if Obama truly were a Kenyan-born Nazi and terrorist sympathizer who has usurped the presidency to set up concentration camps to house dissenters, then armed insurrection could be one logical response. The fact that he is none of those things suggests that there are far deeper forces at play. The right's ability to cast white people as victims is possible only because of the dramatic downward spiral of power and influence for white Americans at home and abroad that, paradoxically, accelerated under George W. Bush.

Internationally, the United States' failed wars and flailing economy have left one of the world's most patriotic nations desperately trying to recalibrate its role in global affairs. "Owing to the relative decline of its economic and, to a lesser extent, military power, the U.S. will no longer have the same flexibility in choosing among as many policy options," concluded the National Intelligence Council, which coordinates analysis from all U.S. intelligence agencies, in November 2008.

Meanwhile, neoliberal globalization has left white Americans feeling insecure in a world where they once called the shots. Among citizens of 46 countries polled in 2007, Americans had the least positive view on foreign trade and one of the least positive on foreign companies. With unemployment edging toward double figures nationally and a once-stagnant median income now shrinking, white Americans do not experience their lot compared with nonwhite Americans as one of relative privilege, because compared with last year they are poorer.

Add to this the fact that numerically, white Americans will be a minority by 2045, and you have the basis for the panic that has been unleashed. Obama's election did not create these anxieties. (Were he more radical in his policies, he might actually alleviate some of them.) It has simply provided a focus for them and, conversely, proved there is a vast constituency -- particularly among the young -- who do not share them.

The country these right-wingers keep saying they "want back" is a white one where their exclusive entitlement to the exercise of power, locally and globally, goes unchallenged. The fact that that country isn't coming back is what makes their voices so shrill and their actions so extreme.

Demographically, economically and geopolitically, white America is in decline. In the absence of any meaningful analysis of class, race or internationalism, white Americans are understandably disoriented.

Never having considered the unearned privilege of being white and American, all they can see are things being taken away from them.

Never having considered solidarity with blacks and Latinos, they see them not as potential allies but as perpetual enemies.

Obama's election showed that these appeals to fear can be defeated; events since then indicate that they can still be destructive.

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Gary Younge writes frequently for The Nation magazine, is the New York correspondent for the Guardian and the author of "No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey Through the Deep South (Mississippi)" and "Stranger in a Strange Land: Travels in the Disunited States" (New Press).

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Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it's uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing -- resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.
~ Joanna Macy

Compassion is the radicalism of our time.
~ H.H. the Dalai Lama

A Columbus Day Meditation - As Nobel Laureate Obama Decides Whether to 'Conquer' Afghanistan...

by Thom Hartmann
Published on Monday, October 12, 2009 by

"Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise." -- Christopher Columbus, 1503 letter to the king and queen of Spain.

"Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished through perseverance and faith." -- George H.W. Bush, 1989 speech

If you fly over the country of Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, the island on which Columbus landed, it looks like somebody took a blowtorch and burned away anything green. Even the ocean around the port capital of Port au Prince is choked for miles with the brown of human sewage and eroded topsoil. From the air, it looks like a lava flow spilling out into the sea.

The history of this small island is, in many ways, a microcosm for what's happening in the whole world.

When Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492, virtually the entire island was covered by lush forest. The Taino "Indians" who lived there had an apparently idyllic life prior to Columbus, from the reports left to us by literate members of Columbus's crew such as Miguel Cuneo.

When Columbus and his crew arrived on their second visit to Hispaniola, however, they took captive about two thousand local villagers who had come out to greet them. Cuneo wrote: "When our caravels... where to leave for Spain, we thousand six hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495...For those who remained, we let it be known (to the Spaniards who manned the island's fort) in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so, to the amount desired, which was done."

Cuneo further notes that he himself took a beautiful teenage Carib girl as his personal slave, a gift from Columbus himself, but that when he attempted to have sex with her, she "resisted with all her strength." So, in his own words, he "thrashed her mercilessly and raped her."

While Columbus once referred to the Taino Indians as cannibals, a story made up by Columbus -- which is to this day still taught in some US schools -- to help justify his slaughter and enslavement of these people. He wrote to the Spanish monarchs in 1493: "It is possible, with the name of the Holy Trinity, to sell all the slaves which it is possible to sell...Here there are so many of these slaves, and also brazilwood, that although they are living things they are as good as gold..."

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Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.
~ Gustave Flaubert

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
~ Maya Angelou