In its perverse, patriotic zeal to recapture-power-at-any-cost, the GOP has sought to harness and exploit the radical right's crowing crowd mentality by regularly stoking it with inflammatory images and rhetoric wrapped in implausible deniability, as when Sarah Palin recently spun her Facebook gun scope cross hairs graphic into mere "encouragement to get out there and vote."
Mrs. P:"Oh, and don't forget your voting permit... and some extra ammo clips. The Democrats can be very violent and dangerous, not to mention socialist fascists who want to take away your freedom and Granny Emma's right to live a few more years."
Republicans are true lock-step masters of repetition, of semantically working the system. Negative images and preconditioned emotional responses to words like Nazi, Stalin, socialism, and Hitler, have been connected to words like Democrats, Obama, "big government," à la Pavlov's dogs, conditioned to salivate on cue.
These classically conditioned associations are strengthened as they are repeated with univocal GOP perfection, from one rally to another, one FoxNews show to another, one cyber site or Tea Party rally to another.
These "nasty" words are drum-beaten to the point that they now reek only of imagistic smells of a weird take on totalitarianism. All other meanings, or shades of meaning, are obliterated. George Orwell talked of this process or product as newspeak, the idea of which is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving only crude, mind-dumbing, partisan-favoring dichotomies.
Speaking of which, parenthetically, why is this man, Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Corp mogul, smiling? Because at the Natl. Press Club on April 7th he actually spoke the words that his network, home of his four horsepersons of the Foxapocalypse: Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin, isn't biased and doesn't have a political agenda -- it's the other networks that do.
Really, what can you say? How do you actually communicate with Murdoch and his ilk if truth is irrelevant and speech merely a competitive sport with powerful agendas accruing to the winner?
In our digital, media-driven politically rancorous nation, words and slogans are now weapons, calls to arms that reliably fire up crowds and banish rational considerations to the collecting heat of obscenitized terms like liberal, compromise, health care reform or climate change.
Right now in America, real communication between people of opposing views is virtually impossible. All sides can, and often do, have their own beliefs, their own facts or factoids, their own networks, Net sites, forums, heroes and villains. Frenzied partisanship has consigned us to murky parallel universes.
However, it is my contention that the GOP has cultivated its radical elements to take back by deceit, disingenuous burps of patriotism, and brilliant manipulations what it lost through the electoral process. It has harnessed money, media, and angry troops to help in that dishonest endeavor.
Republican demonization of any form of Obama Administration health, environmental, poverty-reducing legislation eventually makes any negotiations between Democrats and Republicans tantamount to sleeping with the devil himself. Chasms widen and anger and mistrust deepen
Matters worsen with denunciations of any GOP leader who even breaths a note of accommodation with the Democrats. Brick-a-bats are tossed by fellow congressional representatives and by non-elected GOP leaders like Rush Limbaugh ...
and just when the hell is he moving to Costa Rica like he promised if the Obama Health Reform legislation passed?
Pandering to anyone or anything who will listen, elder erstwhile GOP statesman, John McCain, took time out from his ongoing Palin swoon, to announce that the GOP will cooperate on absolutely nothing with the Obama Administration.
Is this statesmanship, or what?!
It's ‘or what!' It is what psychologist Irvin Janis called groupthink, a process wherein passionate, like-minded individuals come together in a common cause. Over time, they become intellectually isolated and insular. Their process ends up radicalizing and polarizing their thinking. In the process, they denigrate the views of the out-group and over-value the wisdom and correctness of their in-group strategies and worldviews.
There is also a strong tendency to keep opposing ideas are out of discussion, both between people and in conversations with oneself. This is a process that Janis labeled mind guarding. JFK's Bay of Pigs disaster and Nixon's Watergate cover-up are classic examples cited by Janis of both processes. No doubt, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld decision to go to war with Iraq would easily make the list.
On a slightly less grand scale, we have the current GOP political war map. The GOP-Tea Party axis, with its media headquarters and sponsor, FoxNews, spread the gospel, sowing seeds of anger, fear, mistrust of the Health Care legislation and any other policies Obama would like to propose. We await this summer's circus of rhetoric and grandstanding around Obama's latest Supreme Court nomination.
Media research shows that the Right brain body politic tends to immerse itself in an endless stream of conservative worldviews. It feeds from an embarrassment of media riches, across media platforms (e.g., radio, print, TV. Internet, twitter alerts), and does so with greater continuity and duration through the day and night than do people at other points on the political spectrum. Inevitably, what emerges is a ballooning likelihood of anti-government groupthink to take hold and flourish in conservative netroots and grassroots.
No wonder, then, a recent Harris poll demonstrated that the GOP has successfully cultivated fact- and/or logic-defying beliefs about Obama and his political, social, economic goals. This was true especially in the more rabid and outraged Tea Party members. Of them, 66% call themselves conservative; only 13% are Democratic.
The results of the Harris poll are disturbing but not surprising to anyone who follows the news in the various media. Majorities of Republicans believe that President Obama:
• Is a socialist (67%)
• Wants to take away Americans' right to own guns (61%)
• Is a Muslim (57%)
• Wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one world government (51%); and
• Has done many things that are unconstitutional (55%).
Large numbers of Republicans also believe that President Obama:
• Resents America's heritage (47%)
• Does what Wall Street and the bankers tell him to do (40%)
• Was not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president (45%)
• Is the "domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of" (45%)
• Is a racist (42%)
• Want to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (41%)
• Is doing many of the things that Hitler did (38%).
Even more sanity boggling, perhaps, fully 24% of Republicans believe that "he may be the Anti-Christ" and 22% believe "he wants the terrorists to win."
What this demonization has meant is that, even when Obama proposes policies Republicans once supported when Republicans offered them, they are tainted fruit coming from his lips.
The Daily Show never runs out of archival videos showing Republicans supporting, say, one health care idea when it's put forth by a Republican, yet damning it when it's put forth by a Democrat; or supporting tax relief for the rich without worrying about deficit offsets but opposing unemployment insurance extensions for the non-rich because of a lack of deficit offsets -- Folks, 2+ 2 = 5 or 0 or100 when you've walked through the looking glass.
Decades of research on crowd behavior and on emotional arousal and manipulation has highlighted the startling tendency for rational thought and information processing to be easily overwhelmed or twisted by fear, anger, and other powerful, often self-preserving, negative emotions.
Other studies show that selective attention to extreme information that is favorable to ones own position both strengthens AND helps radicalize and further polarize one's positions. It also can make oppositional opinions seem more extreme in the psychologically opposite direction. This is known as the contrast effect. Current, omnipresent media information streams enable and amplify these effects.
Research also shows unequivocally that promoting fear-based ego-involvement in your audience (e.g., fabrications of socialism, death panels, alien, closet Muslims in White House, etc.) increases emotional reactions to oppositional statements and more intense huddling with politically kindred spirits regarding that opposition. The cycle is vicious.
In such a sulfurous climate of discourse, presentation of contradictory facts yield not reflection or position change but retreat into logical deafness and intensified faith in insolvent beliefs. True communication between adversaries is displaced by self-protecting out-group derision and self-enhancing in-group glorification and righteous superiority.
It is hardly a revelation, then, that large protest demonstrations like the anti-war demonstrations in the 60's or the Tea Party rallies of today, are inevitably super Petri dishes for the get-high-on-anger congregants.
All sorts of unpleasant and infectious ideas and slogans break out. People carry their anger on posters; engage in signage sloganeering and social comparison. Should they then spy someone else sporting a sign trumpeting a bumper sticker screed that makes their sign look vitriol-anemic, their next sign rant may fall off the cliff of signage sanity.
The bigger and more energized the crowd, the easier for liberation of dark beliefs to surface-especially if, as in the current rancid climate, frustrated GOP party leaders are joining in the vocal fray, aiding and abetting seething and raucous demonstrations and arguably criminal acts. Recent assaults on and threats to members of congress and an upsurge in militia groups and threats attest to the rising temperature of incivility in America.
Fear, anger, desperation and intemperance feed on each other in an unholy alliance and may push the deluded fringe of self-described, so-called patriots so far into apocalyptic feverishness that any concerned citizen is right to worry about the state of our union.
The question was posed in the opening of Part 1 of this 2-part blog: What can we do? We must all be vigilant in standing up to and speaking out against violence and threats of violence erupting around us, brought to us through and by the media. We must write to the broadcast and print media and to our local, state and national representatives, and let them know where we stand on their words, votes and deeds; when they make us proud and when they shame us.
In other words, we must get back to being citizens first and consumers only a distant second. We must fight for our nation and its - no, our! -- system of government. That's not easy. It never was and it never will be.
The likelihood is that this nation is structurally resilient and capable of riding out this ugly period of polarized political ferment. It probably will politically endure. We're not yet looking over our shoulders at some approaching chronicler of fallen empires, ready to write the historical epitaph entitled The Decline and Fall of the American Empire. We're not quite ready to go gently or otherwise "into that good night."
Not yet at least.