Brothers’ Keeper, Revisited

[This piece appeared in the newspaper August 15, 2020]

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I recently wrote about the most “unthinkable” thing I’ve witnessed in the history of our times: the emergence of a Republican base that would nominate a man like Donald Trump to be President, and then – even more unthinkably – would continue to support him (even as he put on a display of unprecedented presidential “criminality, corruption, and betrayal of the nation”).

I noted the important role played by right-wing propagandists — the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Fox News, and Karl Rove — in creating such an “unthinkable” state of political consciousness, an encapsulated right-wing bubble of misinformation.

About that creation of a systematically misinformed and misled political subculture, I wrote:

“Achieving a better American future will require investigating how such an astonishing thing could happen: i.e. how a political subculture, ruled by propagandistic lies, could be developed in the midst of a free society where – unlike in totalitarian dictatorships – everyone has access to abundant information, and the truth is not a hidden secret.”

And I went on to say: “Hint: a failure by Liberal America is key here.”

Actually, a couple of years ago – in a piece titled “Brothers’ Keeper” — I’d characterized Liberal America’s responsibility as a “failure to be our brother’s keepers.” Left out of that earlier column was what I witnessed personally, back in the 90s, of Liberal America’s role making this dangerous moment in American history possible.

That was when the force rising on the American right was elevating Rush Limbaugh to be the Godzilla of Talk Radio.

Limbaugh “inspired” me to direct my energies toward radio, because I saw an important need for radio programming that would counter the poisoning of the mind of America’s conservatives. So, for several years, I pitched to liberal gatekeepers the idea of doing a program that was the opposite of Limbaugh’s.

Not opposite in the sense of doing from the left what Limbaugh was doing from the right. But rather opposite

  • in having honest inquiry instead of propagandistic lies and distortions;
  • in dealing with disagreement in a spirit of mutual respect rather than sneering contempt;
  • in building bridges rather than feeding prejudices and resentments.

But the liberal gatekeepers weren’t interested because, they said, Limbaugh’s audience was not our concern.

Could it be any clearer now what a disastrous misjudgment that was? Is it not obvious that in American democracy, we share a world with our brothers, and our world will not be healthy if their state of consciousness is not healthy.

Limbaugh’s audience was everyone’s concern. For this dark and dangerous moment in our history has clearly grown directly out of the state of political consciousness among the American conservatives of today.

Now, finally, Liberal America is aflame with the understanding of the political battle that must be fought and won. Now that Trump is showing so blatantly the ugly spirit of the force that’s taken over the right.

(But the shape of the battle should have been clear long ago, for Trump is really only the same wolf but without the sheep’s clothing. The face of Trump’s fascism was already there in the bud with Limbaugh and Gingrich, as they each used their power to move us toward a plutocracy in which the Money Power manipulates and exploits the people, and keeps the people at each other’s throats.)

While it is good that Liberal America has at last joined the inescapable battle, Liberal America continues meanwhile its old habit of leaving the Republican base to their propagandists. Liberal America has written off Trump’s base.

That makes sense in terms of the most urgent priority being to defeat Donald Trump in the upcoming election: it can be safely assumed that Trump will get his base’s votes.

But the battle ahead will not be fought solely at the ballot box. Also vividly imaginable are scenarios in which Trump will attempt to weaponize his base to prevent a free and fair election, or to overturn such an election if Trump loses.

Voting for Trump is one thing. Going along with whatever crimes Trump commits (and believing whatever lies he tells) in order to stay in power is whole different level of support.

The next few months are leading to what may prove a culminating battle in a long-gathering war between American Democracy and what might reasonably be called “Fascism.”

A wise plan of battle for those supporting our American birthright will include fighting for the hearts and minds of American conservatives, addressing those fellow citizens in whatever ways will best immunize them against Trump’s attempts to make his voters his allies for his assault on American democracy.

We should have learned from recent decades of our national history that – regarding those with whom we share a nation — even self-interest requires that we be our “brothers’ keeper.”

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