We are the United States of Amnesia, which is encouraged by a media that has no desire to tell us the truth about anything, serving their corporate masters who have other plans to dominate us. – Gore Vidal
We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the U.S. public believes is false – William J. Casey
If you’re submitting budget proposals for a law enforcement agency, for an intelligence agency, you’re not going to submit…‘We won the war on terror and everything’s great,’ because…your budget’s gonna be cut in half. You know, it’s my opposite of Jesse Jackson’s ‘Keep Hope Alive’—it’s ‘Keep Fear Alive.’ Keep it alive. – Former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes
We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term. – Lindsey Graham
All this hysteria began long before the advent of the internet or Fox News, on the major networks, and it highlighted an old pattern in American myth and politics. To a very great extent, this has always characterized democracy in America: voting against welfare-coddlers, bootstep liberals, east-coast intellectuals, “feminazis,” miscegenation, polluters of racial purity and (let’s get real) “nigger-lovers.” And for hyper-masculine, authoritarian, reactionary, Indian-hating, pseudo-Christian, immigrant-bashing, reality-denying demagogues. Trump is only the latest in a long line stretching back centuries. Indeed, as Democrats continually marvel, large numbers of us regularly vote against our own (narrowly-defined economic) best interests, and in favor of the emotional satisfactions provided by those who promise to marginalize, demonize and/or sacrifice The Other.
The man who claims to be loved because he says “exactly what he means” – says exactly what the entire Republican Party has been saying for 40 years, but sugar-coated with euphemisms – and before that, much of the Democratic Party. Be afraid, be very afraid. They are coming for your hard-earned taxes, your safe neighborhoods – and your daughters.
Getting together with people who think as we do to talk about our worries may not help:
(This) is what social psychologists call the “law of group polarization,” which states that if like-minded people are concerned about an issue, their views will become more extreme after discussing it together.
I recommend Strauss’s article as an excellent explanation of what drives many of Trump supporters to ignore his obvious deficiencies in favor of his “strong man” (read: fascist) approach to dealing with the nation’s current Others: Muslims, Mexicans, feminists and Black activists.
But ultimately Strauss lacks the broader perspective that we really need to understand the whole picture. Given, the fast pace of internet-based media and its impact on our emotional lives is something relatively new. But fear of the Other has always driven Americans to circle the wagons. And not just Americans: the origins of World War Two in Germany remind us that propaganda has always rested on creating anxiety about appropriate scapegoats. As Joseph Goebbels said, “If you tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth.”
So far, we are in the realm of universal explanations. But what Strauss misses, and what I’m more interested in, is what makes Americans so exceptional in this regard. In other words, what makes us so freaking crazy? He has only part of the picture. And for the rest, I refer to an earlier blog series of mine, Shock and Awe: Re-invigorating the Myth of American Innocence.
Re-invigorating our myth occurs in three major ways, and Strauss gets two of them. The first is obvious: the constant fear-mongering of the media and the political class – both major parties – that we can trace all the way back through American history. In fact, it is so much a part of our history as we learn it that it is nearly indistinguishable from our mythology. It is the primary story we tell ourselves about ourselves: our fear of the Other that is solved only with the intercession by some hero figure – with Biblical violence – so that we can get on with the business of pursuing happiness, making money and congratulating ourselves on our self-made, good fortune.
As such, this primary story is quite literally how we define our American identity. We periodically renew that identity by experiencing the fear that the Other will somehow erase it – and then encouraging our warrior classes to sacrifice themselves so as to prevent disaster. And it shouldn’t require a degree in psychology to understand the addictive nature of this experience, which, like any drug, only satisfies us briefly, until we need it again. This is the “shock” side of our “shock and awe” American experience.
Strauss gets the second factor as well, the pace of modern life and the instant nature of electronic news that reinforces our sense that bad things are happening constantly, regardless of our political leanings. I would add (in Chapter Eight):
…the mania produced by our technologically enhanced environment. In most large, indoor public spaces (stores, shopping malls and sports arenas) we have gotten used to enduring the unrelenting onslaught of loud music, blinking lights and high-definition visual images. This is most certainly not accidental. Take restaurant design for example: open kitchens, hard floors and high walls that reflect and increase sound, forcing patrons to shout just to be heard (thereby increasing the noise)…In many places, especially those catering to adolescents, the atmosphere approaches that of gambling casinos, which are deliberately designed to create “altered states” of consciousness. The object is to heighten anxiety and encourage the sense that it can be reduced through consumerism. However, because the anxiety never fully dissipates, we continually acclimate to greater levels of it. Could we find a better clinical definition of addiction?
But what really makes us exceptional – exceptionally crazy – is a third factor that combines with the first two as it has done with no other people in world history. And I must stress again and again that I’m not describing Trump supporters only. Indeed, each time liberals identify them or him as loony – or “the Russians” as the sole source of his election and their discomfort – they reinforce their own sense of innocence. I’m talking about Americans, at least white Americans.