A fundamental principle of rhetoric is that matters of taste and personal preference cannot be argued with any profit or point. Still, a huge amount of verbal energy is expended on proclaiming quirky notions as God's truth and making cases against people who do not believe or think as the expenders do. A trait of expressions of taste and personal attitude is that they always devolve into ad hominem attacks because there are no objective reference points on which to base argument. Consequently, much of what the media, new and old, is devoted to is personal attack and examinations of personhood for the purpose of searching for things that can be contrived into defamations. Differences in cultural orientations and perspectives are tremendously difficult to analyze and resolve, but contentions and beliefs that arise from deep-psychological sets of mind that reach back into the primal motives of domination and violence in humankind are fairly easy to identify for what they are.
The instances of Nancy Pelosi's middle eastern trip which included a visit to Syria and Don Imus' racial denigration of the Rutgers' womens basketball team are easy case histories to examine. Well, maybe not easy, but examinable. They both involve expressions that have swept through the media in one guise or another and describe mindsets of their expressors, not matters of fact or reputable opinion.
It is all a matter of the new fascism, which is a misnomer. The fascism that we are experiencing in America is a very old fascism, but, make no mistake about it, it is fascism. It might better be called proto-fascism.
- it touts a belligerent nationalism over reasoned dialogue with other nations; it practices racism and oppression in its lower timbres;
- it practices, or tries to, suppression of its opposition through attempts at censorship and propagandic and legalistic terrorism;
- it delves into the personal business of its subjects for the purposes of laying a foundation for defamations and legal actions against its own citizenry;
- it assumes dictatorial powers; and it exercises socio-economic control through government agencies and corporate allies. The evisceration of the American middle class is the creation of an economic serfdom.
Fascism in its 21st century form is simply a return to feudalism, including the ignorance, the superstitious belief systems, and animal-herd social organization of the Dark Ages. The neo-clamor against evolution, global warming, individual rights regarding reproduction, humanistic and scientific exploration and dialogue about human existence, the belief in peace and the alternatives to violence, the acceptance of a militaristic state, the branding of free-thinking as heresy and traitorous are propaganda tactics that fall in line with every fascist and totalitarian state in history. To that mindset, Difference = Enemy. And so, the hate propaganda mounts.
The definition of fascism gained currency in 1995 when Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist and semiologist, wrote his definitions of contemporary Ur-Fascism in a New York Review of Books essay "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt." This essay launched an international discussion of how fascism has its origins in the social organization of animal packs--dog packs, chicken flocks, cow herds, etc.--in which individuals try to gain dominance and power over each other through establishing a hierarchical order through treachery and violence. Democracy is a rejection of this kind of social order and the assertion, as demonstrated by Christ, of good will and good purpose as what must be the controlling motives of mankind. In this context, the words of Imus and the false accusations against Nancy Pelosi take on the aspect of true regression into mindless hostility.
Some reports say that Imus is being pilloried for making one horrendous comment. That is not true. He sits before the microphone protesting "I am a good and decent person," but the "nappy-headed ho" appelation is not an isolated instance of when he has made a vicious denigration. A number of press and media-related organizations have recorded an accumulation of racial-based defamations by him. Much beyond his denigrations, however, he makes almost daily diminishing and degrading comments upon those on whom he presumes to pass negative judgment. He derogates people for being fat, Jewish, bald, unattractive, and on and on. His idea of humor is not parody and satire of presumption and fatuity in others but is malignant name-calling and abusive aspersions.
Imus' offenses go far deeper than racism and sexism. We have always been troubled that people find his crude maligning of people humorous and entertaining. Still, he and his slavering producer, Bernard, would often launch into doltish rituals of name-calling and abuse, accompanied with a near-cretinous snickering and guffawing as if it was witty or cogent. The maligning of other people on the basis of a personal negative attitude toward them, rather than verified words and actions, is not witty or humorous or the acts of good and decent people.
We watched Imus occasionally to hear what prominent journalists and politicians on his show had to say. Only infrequently did his guests protest his malignant assaults on people about whom they talked. He did feature people on his show who did parodies of some celebrities with point and wit. But his shows were always laced with strands of cruel ridicule and defamations that were personal, not directed at particular behavior.
Objection to Imus is not a matter of taste. It is a matter of recognizing the difference between intelligent satire and genuine wit and crude, name-calling disparagement without foundation. Name-calling is the first mark of malignant propaganda. The syndrome Imus exhibits has become a standard of American media. Contriving defects of character in others and accusing them of perfidious acts has become an industry--some like to call it interactive media. It is the basis for the popularity of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and their ilk. It is the commercialization of proto-fascism.
That leads to the assault against Nancy Pelosi. Underlying the assault is that Ms. Pelosi is a woman who dares to assume the top leadership role in the U.S. House. This is upsetting to proto-fascists who cling to the belief that organization is a matter of bullying one's way to the head of the pack and that position is reserved for Alpha males. The Alpha-male wannabes are really pissed off at Nancy Pelosi's acension to high leadership. Their pissing gets ignitable when Ms. Pelosi disregards what she should have learned in obedience school and disobeys the commands of the master not to go to Syria. We won't dwell on the many congressmen from both parties who have traveled the Middle East and how it is their right and responsibility to
- provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States
- regulate commerce with foreign nations
- define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the Laws of Nations
- declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water
- make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces
- provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States
- decide, in the case of the Senate, by two-thirds vote on the making of treaties and affairs with foreign countries
Congresspersons go on fact-finding missions to obtain information so that they may carry out these charges with intelligence. Nancy Pelosi did not present Syria or any other country with an alternative foreign policy. As the people who accompanied her testify, she represented America's concerns in total consistency with national policy and objectives. The contentions that she didn't are fabrications that have no basis in fact.
With Congress given so much responsibility to counter the destructive antics of George W. and his Great American Stooge Show, the criticisms of Nancy Pelosi and her attempt to nudge the stalled peace talks between Israel and its recalcitrant neighbors along can hardly be seen as anything but peevish resentment. When people cite George W. as the commander-in-chief whose every word and notion must be obeyed, they ignore the layers of restraint and obligation imposed by the Constitution and its implementing legislation on that role. Nancy Pelosi's offense is that she is a Democrat who is Speaker of the House, she is a woman, and she will not take the place assigned by those who flirt with proto-fascism as a political ideology.
The accusations made against her visit are contrived. Some commentators even went so far as to say she committed a felony with her visit. Those contrivances are the moral and intellectual equivalent of what Imus and Bernard said about the Rutgers women's basketball team. They are statements intended to harm and damage. And the fact that Nancy Pelosi is a public figure while the Rutgers women are earnest and diligent young students does not mitigate the malignancy in the statements made about her. Nancy Pelosi and the Rutgers women provoke animus because they are women and they have achievements that are equal to, and sometimes surpass, that of their male counterparts.
Racism and sexism are the surface issues in all this. The fundamental issue is the malice behind the hate speech. Proto-fascism is based upon the presumption of a hierarchy in which there is no universal equality but in which some assert some kind of a right to oppress, damage, and subjugate other people. The charges of racism in the Imus matter put on display a sword that cuts both ways. The denigration of blacks and derogation of women in some rap and hip-hop music and culture are symptoms of a more primal attitude operating in the culture. Imus' devastating insult is the sign of a vicious malice that cannot be covered up by a chortling and guffawing delivery. The fabrications against Nancy Pelosi are the sign of a hatred that goes far deeper than a difference of political opinion.
Don Imus had a sizeable audience for his radio show and its simulcast that brought the networks about $50 million a year in advertising revenues. He has used some of his personal wealth for humane and charitable causes. The troubling aspect is how many people listened to Imus and found malicious insult and abuse of other people amusing and entertaining. Just as troubling is the audience of people who listen to rap and hip-hop and get enjoyment from the denigration and derogation that has become a characteristic of the culture. It is the fad and fashion, and corporations have been making huge amounts of money from it. It is part of the proto-fascist attitude that whatever profits one and gains power over people is fair game, no matter how destructive and demoralizing it is to some.
The firing of Don Imus does not reach the people who have profited and are responsible for spreading the malignant fashions and attitudes that are undercutting our nation and denying social freedom, equality, and justice to those designated for insult and abuse. It will be a matter of cable news and blogs being saturated for a time with the matter, and then it too will pass, and life will go on. As long as people send hate mail to the women of the Rutgers basketball team, the cancer will only gain more of a foothold. Eventually, it might kill us all. It might accomplish what Al Qaeda wants.
We do note that the more assiduous practitioners of malicious derogation fall into the camp of the political regressives. However, the so-called progressives indulge themselves, also. Ignorance, cruelty, and malice are characteristics that persist throughout the spectrum of political attitudes. When I commented on some foolish excesses publicly demonstrated by young people on election day, I earned the stereotype of being a crabby old man with a porkpie in a jumpsuit yelling at young people to get out of my yard. This was not from the regressive camp. But I doubt that its author understood that applying such a diminishing stereotype to someone on the basis of age is the intellectual and moral equivalent of calling a black man nigger. It is an example of the quality of the Imus-like insulting banter that is the stuff of the new media. That it is delivered under humorous guise does not mitigate the presence of malice.
This is the world we live in. In that world we have founded a new nation presided over by those who have made it the United States of Ignonimy. Nancy Pelosi attempted to restore some of the integrity of our status as an agent of peace and reason, but she is vilified. The vilification comes not out of the rhetoric of disagreement through informed opinions, but those who can disagree only by maligning others and portraying them with odious and false characterizations.
We are proud of America's leadership in the world for freedom, equality, and justice for all. We are proud of how it works out the injustices in its own society. But when criticizing the failures of our country are labeled as anti-American, we see the signs of past triumphs and accomplishments being undermined by those who long to dominate, derogate, and control.
The firing of Don Imus will not end the deep-seated malignancy that infects the contemporary human spirit. Proto-fascism threatens to overturn the 230 years of cultural progress that is America's history.