Monday, July 03, 2006

The drums of elimination

Documenting the mounting drumbeat of eliminationist rhetoric from the American right has long been a staple of this blog. But even I have to shake my head in wonder at the turn of events this past week -- most of it in the wake of the New York Times' publication of stories detailing the Bush administration's use of banking data in its search for terrorists.

The upshot has been a significant escalation in this rhetoric, coming not just from the usual rabid quarters but coming over the national airwaves from figures who supposedly represent mainstream conservatism -- and it is aimed not just at the usual "liberal" targets, but at the entire institution of the free press.

And perhaps most remarkably, the press itself -- continuing its chief trend so far this century -- has been remarkably timid about confronting it.

Fortunately, there have been a few voices that have not, including Paul Waldman at Media Matters:
The right has kept the media under constant assault for decades, and the response from the media has been to bend over backward to prove they aren't biased -- by being harder on Democrats. They should have learned long ago that the "liberal bias" charge has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the news. It is a political strategy, a way of "working the ref" and providing easy excuses for public rejection of the right's goals. But what we have seen this week is something qualitatively different.

Given the constant drumbeat of criticism directed at the media from conservatives, it might be easy to dismiss this latest expulsion of bile as just more of the same. But it's worth stepping back to take a look at exactly what has occurred over the past week. Members of Congress have suggested revoking the Capitol Hill credentials of journalists, so that only news organizations that do not displease the ruling party may be permitted to report from Congress. Other members have accused members of the media of "treason" and advocated their prosecution. A conservative television and radio personality suggested that the government establish an Office of Censorship to screen the news. Another said, "I would have no problem with [New York Times editor Bill Keller] being sent to the gas chamber." The House of Representatives passed a resolution saying it "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations."

In short, the right assembled a posse this week -- vigilantes stalking television studios, radio airwaves, print, and the Internet, their apparent goal to revoke the First Amendment.

That, as it turns out, was only the beginning. Glenn Greenwald this weekend examined the lunacy that arose in the right-wing blogosphere, particularly from the Michelle Malkin and David Horowitz quarters, where they claimed that the Times Travel Section committed treasonous behavior by printing a story detailing the accommodations -- and locations -- of Bush and Cheney's vacation retreats, all of which is already easily accessed public information.

But that wasn't enough. This was about beating the drum to eliminate the enemy. Horowitz set the rhythm:
Make no mistake about it, there is a war going on in this country. The aggressors in this war are Democrats, liberals and leftists who began a scorched earth campaign against President Bush before the initiation of hostilities in Iraq.

And pretty soon everyone else joined in, including commenters like this:
since we've so civilized ourselves that it's highly unlikely that an angry mob with torches will show up on the NYT's doorstep.

Pity, that.

Greenwald's updates detail how the drumbeat started reaching a fever pitch:
UPDATE II: The outright derangement generated by this madness has now led one of the imbeciles who likely read Malkin and Powerline's blog to post the home address and telephone number of the Times photographers on his website. NOTE: After leaving the photographer's home address up for roughly 24 hours, he has deleted the page (a screen shot before its deletion is here) and now warns:

The post has served its purpose--we got your attention over the NY Times' lack of consideration for everyday Americans, (who its principals have utter contempt for), our soldiers (who they despise) and our President (who they have a seething hatred of). Subsequent posts will concentrate on the Times's reporters, editors and executives.

He then -- with more unintended irony than I thought possible -- pouted that the comments he received were "getting pretty nasty" and decried the "common ploy of the Left: destroy the messenger when he or she hits home with a good point, instead of discussing or arguing the merits of that point."

UPDATE III: Another upstanding, patriotic blogger -- after linking to the blog which posted the address of the Times photographer -- has now posted this:

So, in the school of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, we are providing this link so YOU may help the blogosphere in locating the homes (perhaps with photos?) of the editors and reporters of the New York Times.

Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. , Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?

Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous -- grab for the golden ring.

He's urging people to find the names and addresses of New York Times editors and reporters in order to "hunt them down and do America a favor." And he said that right after he posted the link to the address of the Times photographer. And this is just the beginning of this syndrome, not the end.

This syndrome has a specific name: eliminationism. And it's important to identify it, because it has become not only a distinguishing but a dominating feature of right-wing rhetoric.

As I described it before:
What, really, is eliminationism?

It's a fairly self-explanatory term: it describes a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.

... Rhetorically, it takes on some distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as simply beyond the pale, and in the end the embodiment of evil itself -- unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus in need of elimination. It often depicts its designated "enemy" as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and loves to incessantly suggest that its targets are themselves disease carriers. A close corollary -- but not as nakedly eliminationist -- are claims that the opponents are traitors or criminals, or gross liabilities for our national security, and thus inherently fit for elimination or at least incarceration.

And yes, it's often voiced as crude "jokes", the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred.

But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.

Of course, we all know that this isn't the first time that Malkin has pulled a Radio Rwanda stunt, nor, it's quite clear, is it likely to be the last. She's actually quite proud of the ugliness she's unleashing.

In that regard, she's really just following in the footsteps of the Eliminationist Diva herself, Ann Coulter, who wants to inspire mobs of skinheads to perform their manly duties and beat the crap out of Muslims and liberals.

What is perhaps most disturbing about this current outbreak is that it's occurring in a context in which the drums have been getting louder all around, especially in recent months. Perhaps the most important front for this has been the immigration debate, which has opened the floodgates for all kinds of right-wing extremism to gain adoption from mainstream conservatives.

The talk has also become a staple for local and national radio talk show hosts, and it has generally become imbedded in the media discourse to the point that it now seems almost unremarkable.

The rising question in all this, as Michelle Goldberg explored at Huffblog, is the extent to which this eliminationism signals a trend toward real fascism.

After all, eliminationism is the calling card, the signature project, of fascism. The natural outcome of "palingenetic ultranationalist populism" -- Oxford scholar Roger Griffin's definition of the core of fascism -- is always eliminationism; in order to revive the national spirit, the nation has to be purged of the elements that have caused its despoilment. The fascist always casts himself as the true representative of the national spirit, and always casts himself in a heroic light. But heroes always need enemies, and eventually, the fascist gets around to naming them.

When we hear the drumbeat of eliminationism, we know where it always ends up. Those who join in may not conceive of themselves as fascists, but they join in anyway.

After all, the drumbeat feels good. It's about scapegoating, telling people that their problems, and the problems of the world, are not their fault -- it's someone else's.

Boom ba boom.

It keeps drumming, and the louder it gets, the more people join in.

Boom ba boom boom boom.

And when they name their enemies, they're just getting started. First it's "illegals." Then it's "homosexuals." Then it's "Muslim radicals." Then it's "liberals." Then it's "the liberal media."

Boom ba boom boom Boom ba boom boom

And it just gets louder and louder. And pretty soon no one knows how to make it stop.

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