Hearing things like this episode of Reveal (a summary of the latest season of Verified), specifically the kinds of things said by the young white supremacist in the US featured in the episode, makes me extremely concerned.
Conspiracies and other misdirections are founded in truths; that’s why they have appeal in the first place. ‘There’s something wrong,’ they say, and that’s broadly agreeable these days, so people listen more, and over time the rage of those people at the state of their lives is corrupted against themselves.
It’s clear that there is an elite class in the US. Few can honestly deny that. They have power whether institutional or informal. But this isn’t some kind of conspiracy hashed out in late-night closed-door meetings: it’s an intentional effect of our socioeconomic and political systems, that same WEIRD mono-culture that we WEIRDos have propagated around the world wherever it has seemed convenient.
My ex-uncle always used to tell me “It takes money to make money,” but with a bitter dismissiveness born of resignation, without any of the potential boast to it at all. He knew what he was saying: those with money will make more money, those without will not. He worked for one of the Big Three at their proving grounds, so though he did manage a comfortable life for himself, he wasn’t overwhelmed with income by any means, and anything he made was eaten away like most other working-class folks. In the time I knew him, I watched him become radicalized by the far-Right along with my aunt. To be sure, they were always already to the right. My aunt especially has always been generous with bigoted rants, being a woman who over the course of my early childhood often expressed her disgust at the possibility of ever seeing two men kissing—which told me (1) she never had but (2) she always wanted to and it terrified her, but that is another story.
Anyway, people like my aunt and former uncle all across the country knew back in the 90s that something was wrong, but at the time the only people who seemed to agree with them were from the Right. And the Right offered them a classic ‘Bait and Switch’ maneuver, deployed by politically minded news outlets and media influencers. This has proven costly already, just from the events of 2016 onward, though I suspect the true cost remains to be levied.
The timing itself is not a coincidence: the Obama years led to the radicalization of many at the hands of white supremacists. “Nobama” became a thing after Obama was elected. One of my last neoconservative contributions to my family was to buy them Nobama bumper stickers. Mostly, I just liked the wordplay. Like many others at the time I had been convinced that his presidency would be disastrous for the conservative agenda, sure, but the wordplay made me laugh. I suspect that was the appeal for my family, too, since it always made them laugh. (I’ll talk about this elsewhere, but for now: my time as a neoconservative had nothing to do with actual politics and everything to do, unconsciously, with trying to be accepted by my neoconservative family, maybe even to soften the eventual conflict when they found out I was gay. My own political views developed after I began to isolate myself due to an acutely traumatic incident. That isolation allowed me to think through what actually mattered, so that by the time Wallstreet was #occupied, I was pretty fully progressive and committed to the #Occupy movement from within my isolation.)
In fact, Obama’s presidency was disastrous, but for the status quo more than anything else and for the perpetuation of our moderate-right leaning systems. What happened in those years was a radicalization of the Right into fascism (The Tea Party being the widest and earliest known national movement) but also a propulsion, of Millennials mainly, to the Left. Given that the state of affairs in the US is already to the Right, anything leftward of the DNC is considered extreme; however, most of us appear to me to be left of the DNC but far from radical authoritarian leftism.
However the radicalization of the Left is at least nascent. The troubling significance is not lost on me of leftist memes on Facebook that promote guns but then, worse, the idea of political violence as a legitimate form of political change. So now, I think, many of us on the Left are at risk of radicalization too. We might think of the man who had intended to murder Justice Kanavaugh for an example. Things are becoming dangerous on all sides, but they will fall apart entirely if some from the Left are also radicalized in our prolonged frustration and as we attempt to manage the multiple threats so many of us are dealing with from those radicalized on the far-Right.
But what is worst of all is to hear white supremacists and neonazis telling half-truths in their espousals, using persuasive but corrupted views of the problems ailing us in order to recruit. They parrot progressive ideals up to a point before subverting them for easy boogeymen: it’s this or that minority holding you down, not the systems actually holding you down.
How can anyone combat this from the Left? ‘Yes, you’re right: elites; but no, it’s not a conspiratorial attempt, it’s current and open but uncoordinated; and no, it is not Jewish people or any other ethnic or racial group or anyone of the LGBTQ+ population, it’s the socioeconomic systems that have led us to this state of affairs.’ Its what must be said, but could you understand why it makes me scoff bitterly?
We’re seeing with antiracist movements exactly how difficult it is to shift a narrative away from individuals to systems.
Before this shift right- and leftward, there was room for the Left to set the narrative. In the absence of someone like Bernie Sanders being elevated into a position to establish the narrative, reality laid bare, it has been set by others who have subverted the frames, corrupting them toward a nationalist authoritarianism founded on white Christian supremacy.
How can those who have been persuaded by supremacists and other fascists into a false reality be brought back? How can the narratives accepted (largely implicitly, mind you) be altered by anyone from among those marginalized by those accepted narratives? These are the questions that have haunted me for years now, but I still haven’t found any clear answers other than to cross my fingers and hope for the best while I’m thinking.
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