Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Headin' for the big roundup

Having made two post-election jaunts to the red state hinterlands of Idaho and Montana, I'm back to report that, well, things are getting ugly out there. In some cases, really ugly.

I've been talking for some time about the course that eliminationist rhetoric on the right would eventually take by the force of its own nature: pretty soon we'd go from talking about liberals as traitors to overtly wishing for violence to be visited upon them and discussing locking them up, followed in due course by such violence and incarceration becoming a reality.

Well, it is now becoming a commonly spoken sentiment on the right to wish for violence against liberals and to simultaneously suggest they and all "traitors" (including Muslim Americans) should be locked away. We're firmly into Phase II now.

Now, you won't hear this talk on the upper levels of the conservative movement. People like William Bennett will call for a "national renewal" aimed at enforcing a new moral code, while Ann Coulter will explain to her readership, a la the title of her most recent "bestseller", that the "preferable" way to address a liberal is with "a baseball bat." [Ha ha. Whatsa matter, you don't think that's funny? Someone should beat you up.]

And if you talk to supposedly "reasonable" conservatives, who will claim that talk like this remains relegated to the fringes and is just so much "hot talk." I've been hearing this for a long time, but I keep hearing more and more of the eliminationist talk.

You hear it when conservatives -- especially those red-state cultural conservatives from the working class who are most likely to vote against their own self-interest, and then blame liberals for how lousy their lives are -- get together among themselves for their communal liberal-bashing hatefests. They'll say it when they think no one else is listening. You can hear it from "fringe" radio figures like Michael Savage. Or you can read it in the unpublished letters to the editor that most publications choose not to run.

It's the natural outgrowth of the kind of rhetoric we've gotten from the national conservative punditry, manifesting itself on a less sophisticated but more direct and plain-spoken mode.

My very clear impression of the rank-and-file American right is that many if not most of them, at the behest of their leaders, now believe that opposing George W. Bush and the Iraq War, as well as his handling of the War on Terror, is an act of genuine treason worthy of the ultimate social condemnation, including incarceration and execution. They feel not only vindicated but profoundly empowered by the election result, empowered to silence their opposition, by force if need be.

These aren't just my impressions from hanging out in Deep Red Country. The evidence is abundant elsewhere as well. Consider, for instance, some of the letters to the editor received by Editor and Publisher after it published a piece by former USA Today publisher Al Neuharth (who is not exactly a liberal) questioning the administration's handling of Iraq.

One correspondent wished we had formed an alliance with Hitler (so we could have eliminated Commies and leftists from the planet first), while the rest called the offending authors "cowards and traitors", "unAmerican," "jackals," and the like. Then the threatening notes enter:
Their dissent equals treason. The terrorists got him just like all the other rich liberals who side against our victory. They forget that wars end, and then the country takes stock of who was where.

More along those lines:
Neuharth should be tried for treason along with a lot of other blowhards who should be spending their energies condemning the barbarism of our enemies, the same people who destroyed the Twin Towers.

... In the end William Joyce was executed for giving aid and comfort to the enemy during war time. Would that the same fate befall Al Neuharth!

The consummate expression of these attitudes was this:
The Patriot Act will put both of you (Neuharth and Mitchell) on trial for treason and convict and execute both of you as traitors for running these stories in a time of war and it should be done on TV for other communist traitors like you two to know we mean business. This is war and you should be put in prison NOW for talking like this. Who the hell do you people think you are? You give aid and comfort to our enemies and aid them in murdering our proud soldiers. You people are a disgrace to America. Your families should be put in prison with you, then be made to leave and move to the Middle East ...This is a great Christian nation and god wants us to lead the world out of darkness with great leaders like President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Communists like Al and Greg will soon be in prison and on death row for your ugly papers. We won the election and now you are mad. We own America and all the rights, you people are trash, go back to Russia and Africa and take your friends with before we put you on death row after a fair trial.

E&P had earlier been the recipient of a similar e-mail from a fellow named Joe M. Richardson voicing similar sentiments, while holding forth on the subject of the soldiers who dared to question Donald Rumsfeld (cited by Atrios):
The duped soldier should be put at the very front of the action, no armor. The cooperating sergeant's career should be over and maybe become MIA. Pitts and all his cronies should be executed as traitors. We are fighting a war, the debate is over, you’re either for us or against us, there is no middle ground. I say start executing the leftists in our country, soon.

Bow-tied Beltway Republicans (and liberals, too) like to disregard talk like this as unrepresentative. But I don't think that's the case any longer. I think they're not just blowing smoke, they're deluding themselves. It's out there, and it's just about everywhere.

As Better Angels put it:
As for ol' Joe: nothing that you say to someone like him will change his mind. What I'm afraid of is that there are many, many more like him, that they're the ones driving the debate, and that we won't be able to unhorse them until this noble, great, beloved country of mine lies in ruins--and even then, they'll be so congenitally unable to accept responsibility that they'll be looking for blame everywhere except where it lies--in themselves.

A lot of my regular readers wondered why I jumped all over Michelle Malkin for her noxious defense of the Japanese American internment. Aside from my extensive background in dealing with the subject -- enough to know that Malkin was perpetrating an outrage against memory and history -- the more pertinent concern was that I could see where this argument was heading.

Malkin's disingenuous disclaimers notwithstanding, it was clear she was creating a rationale for repeating one of American history's real atrocities by rounding up and incarcerating the nation's Arab and/or Muslim populace and placing them in concentration camps (given an appropriate GOP-style euphemism like, say, "homeland security centers"). Earlier this week, Bush appointee Daniel Pipes published an op-ed piece clearly advocating the view that such internment should be considered a viable option. (Eric Muller has the consummate commentary on Pipes' piece.)

As Juan Cole observed, in light of Pipes' piece:
If the American yahoos ever start putting people in concentration camps, I think we may be assured that they won't stop with the Muslims or the Asians, and Mr. Pipes will come to have reason to regret his imprudence and, frankly, his demonic implication.

So will, I suspect, a whole class of willfully self-deluded conservatives and "moderate" liberals. As for the rest of us, well, who knows whether we'll even still be around when they finally reach their epiphany?

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