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“The Politics Of Fear”: It’s The Solidarity Of The Group That Matters Most To Right Wing Conservatives, And Their Loyalty To It

The bigger they are the harder they fall. The higher they climb the greater their fear of falling.

That was the takeaway of a much talked-about piece by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, called “the Brittle Grip,” about America’s rich and how they’ve twisted American politics because of their pathological fear of losing it all.

What Marshall’s essay highlights is how pervasively the glue which now holds the Republican coalition together is fear and anxiety. It’s a fear that is fed daily by demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and the prime time line-up on Fox News.

One reaction among the Top 1% to the near collapse of the world economy back in 2008 might have been shame and remorse and a resolution to make amends for the pain and suffering their greed and recklessness had caused for millions of Americans who lost jobs and are still struggling to find work.

Instead, the Top 1% became consumed by fears the American people, acting through their government, might rein in bankers and financial wizards the same way their ancestors did when they elected Franklin Roosevelt after capitalism almost destroyed itself way back in 1929.

The higher the Top 1% has climbed up the income ladder, the more tenuous it feels its grip on those top rungs has become. And it is that fear of falling, as Marshall says, which explains the snarling, ferocious backlash we’ve seen over the past five years among an upper class that is desperate to keep everything it’s won and furious with President Obama for suggesting they should give some of it back.

“The extremely wealthy are objectively far wealthier, far more politically powerful and find a far more indulgent political class than at any time in almost a century – at least,” says Marshall. “And yet at the same time they palpably feel more isolated, abused and powerless than at any time over the same period and sense some genuine peril to the whole mix of privileges, power and wealth they hold.”

This “disconnect” requires some socio-cultural explanation, says Marshall, because on the surface this hysteria among the swells just doesn’t make sense.

After all, President Obama angered portions of his own party when he went along with George W. Bush to push through unpopular fixes that saved the personal fortunes of a lot of the same people who are now demonizing him — like billionaire Tom Perkins who recently compared Obama to Hitler in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

The irony, of course, is that Obama’s policies have been just fine for rich people, says Marshall. Taxes have stayed low. Almost nobody got prosecuted for incinerating trillions of dollars of wealth. And profits are again at record levels.

But reality is no match for a concentration of wealth and gap between rich and poor that is so massive it creates its own “status anxieties” among people who are anxious their status at the top of the social pyramid makes them targets of envy and resentment by those left behind.

The Top 1% (or .01% ) doesn’t just have more stuff, says Marshall. “The sheer scale of the difference means they live what is simply a qualitatively different kind of existence.”

Today’s income gap would create “estrangement and alienation” in any society, says Marshall. But such massive inequality is particularly problematic in a democracy like ours “where such a minuscule sliver of the population can’t hope to protect itself alone at the ballot box.”

And it’s that fear of what “the masses” might do with whatever residual political power they still retain in our democracy that has turned America’s upper class into mistrustful reactionaries who are fighting back with everything they have and demanding that the Republican Party give not one inch to this interloper in the White House and the rainbow coalition he represents.

Could that be why a once-socially responsible conservative like George F. Will, who used to regularly scold fellow conservatives for embracing a survivor-of-the-fittest ethos, has found a new home at Fox News and a second career denigrating democracy while proclaiming the infinite virtues of plutocracy?

Those shouting “class warfare!” today are the same people who were spoiled by Ronald Reagan and his Republican heirs with all their fawning flattery that those with money were the only ones “driving forward the society and economy and prosperity for everyone.”

No matter that Wall Street had come close to crashing the global economic system with its irresponsible risk taking and its gaming the political system to permit “this high-risk, wealth-juicing leverage,” says Marshall. “These were, and are, folks who just weren’t used to public criticism.”

These “masters of the universe” believed their own mythology that only they were responsible for “keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis,” says Marshall. Their attitude was: “So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we’ll do our jobs and you do yours.”

It’s this overwhelming hubris, insecurity at the brittleness of their hold on wealth, power and privileges — combined with the reality of great wealth and power — “that breeds a mix of aggressiveness and perceived embattlement,” says Marshall.

Obama is hardly a radical socialist. Indeed, most historians and political economists locate Obama somewhere right of center on the political spectrum given his (infuriating to his supporters) caution when approaching the near economic depression of the past five years and the financial sector abuses that caused it.

But when Southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are the only other Democratic presidents elected in the past half century, then Barak Obama becomes the closest thing to a real progressive any of these plutocrats have seen in their adult lives. “And that was just not something any of these folks had experienced before,” says Marshall.

That is how Republicans mutated from a party that once believed in a “hands-off fiscal and regulatory policy” to one that exhibits a “kind of feverish mindset” where conservatives can actually claim with a straight face that progressives are intent on a campaign of “mass wealth confiscation or internment or even exterminations,” says Marshall.

This “feverish mindset” at the upper end of the Republican food chain finds ample expression at the bottom of the conservative coalition as well, where the GOP’s populist right wing base is suffering its own “status anxieties” as white Christians shudder at all those lurid tales it’s been told of the dark-skinned hoards now taking over the country who mean to confiscate their bank accounts and throw them from their homes.

Theirs is the demographic panic of a Mayflower descendent like Sarah Barnes, who complained on Herman Cain’s website how Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl commercial featuring America the Beautiful sung in a chorus medley of different languages was robbing her of her heritage, her cultural inheritance and her “national identity.”

Barnes is all for “diversity” — just so long as the dark-skinned races remember their place and not turn America into a “Frankenstein national cadaver of half dead cultures, stitched together by some godless bureaucrats in Washington.”

Having told us how she really feels about her fellow Americans, Barnes can’t understand for the life of her why narrow-minded liberals are not more accepting of the “different” ideas she expresses but instead call her a racist just because she thinks America belongs to her and her kind while the rest of us are free to live here just so long as we behave.

I feel quite certain that if ever Adolph Hitler rose from the dead and threw his helmet into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination there would be those conservatives who would compare liberals to Nazis for demonizing Das Fuhrer for proposing that the vote be limited to blue-eyed Nordic blondes.

Is the odious bigotry of Sarah Barnes, so rampant now on the right, identical to fascism? Maybe not. Not yet.  But it’s a kind of fascism. Or at least the kind of toxic cultural chauvinism that leads to fascism given the right conditions.

“The human mind is so weak an instrument, and is so easily enslaved and prostituted by human passions, that one is never certain to what degree the fears of the privileged classes of anarchy and revolution are honest fears and to what degree they are dishonest attempts to put the advancing classes at a disadvantage,” wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in 1932, just as FDR was taking office.

But these are not bad people, Niebuhr reminds us, just bad groups, which bring out the worst in their members.

Individuals may be moral because “they are endowed with a measure of sympathy and consideration for their kind” and so are able to consider interests other than their own, says Niebuhr.  And provided these  individuals are able to purge “egoistic elements” from themselves, they may even from time to time prefer the advantages of others to their own.

“But all these achievements are difficult, if not impossible, for human societies and social groups,” says Niebuhr. That is because in every human group “there is less reason to guide and to check impulse, less capacity for self-transcendence, less ability to comprehend the needs of others and therefore more unrestrained egoism than the individuals who compose the group reveal in their personal relationships.”

For all their fine talk about liberty and individualism, it’s the solidarity of the group that matters most to right wing conservatives, and their loyalty to it.

 

By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, February 13, 2014

February 16, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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