17 August 2009
On American Wingnuttery
The Washington Post had an interesting story on Sunday which traced the history of American head-banger politics over the years. Whatever the ostensible issue the root cause for the outbreak of lunacy is usually the same:
. . .expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.Your friendly old Exile wouldn't argue with any of that, but there is one point that needs to be made. During Kennedy's time most Americans listened to the same music on the same radio stations and watched the same network news from one of the three national channels. Whether they liked it or not, they had to debate one another. However, today things are very different. The right watches Fox News and the left tunes in to CNN. Both sides have their own websites that appeal only to the already converted. In other words what is happening is that increasingly Americans are only getting their information from places that bolster their already existing values and beliefs. That may be why increasing numbers of them are screaming at each other. . .
The last time that this happened was the 1850s when the South was censoring the mails and thus preventing Northern newspapers and abolitionist tracts from reaching the region. Americans during that decade ceased to talk to each other and contented themselves with screaming at the other side. Although there were a lot of other factors at play, today's Americans might want to pause for a moment and consider that the decade of the 1850s ended in civil war.