Thoughts On Political Intolerance and Bigotry In Today’s Culture

In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the G.O.P. has become

…the party of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.

Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a “racist” and asserted that he “has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obama’s economic policies: “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

And over the weekend, such civil rights leaders as John Lewis were subjected to racial slurs; Congressman Barney Franks was slammed with homophobic labels as he walked to the Capitol.  Much of this occurred with the egging on of Republican House members, shouting and sign-waving from the balcony, as they watched Tea Party members engaging in what Michael Steele described as just “stupid things” being said by “idiots.” But they aren’t.  They are statements of bigotry and racism.

The interesting thing, psychologically, is what propels this in 2010, and how pervasive such intolerance is, in our country.  I think it may be more widespread in appearance than in reality, however, though it certainly looks like the former.  And Herbert is dead-on when he writes,

…it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

I think the real trends across our culture are in opposite directions — towards greater, not lesser tolerance; towards awareness that we’re all interconnected in this globalized world, and that we rise or fall together, as a species. Demographic data and surveys increasingly show these trends.  Moreover, hate talk is nothing new.  I recall as a youngster hearing one of the “granddaddys” of bigoted talk shows, the infamous Joe Pine.  And going back to an earlier period, Father Coughlin spouted a fascist, antisemitic ideology under the guise of religion.  But these people, including members of the John Birch Society (which called President Eisenhower a communist!) were recognized by the masses as extreme, bigoted, out-of-touch with the “real America” (to borrow one of Sarah Palin’s favorite phrases).  It should be remembered that the paragon of modern political conservatism, William F. Buckley, denounced the Birchers and their ilk.

What’s changed is that today the bigots — and the showmen who use bigotry and fear as a career development strategy — have a nationwide platform via cable TV, the Internet, blogs and other media. Those broad-reaching outlets weren’t  available until recent years.  I think this gives rise to an illusion that this kind of ideology and mentality is widespread.  In fact, it may just be more widely available, and  because of that, people who are drawn to such thinking are able to for a more cohesive community of the like-minded.

The current G.O.P. bears responsibility, however,  for those who become pumped-up by extremist, fear-driven, hate-driven talk and become dangerous.  It’s allowing itself to be taken over by such thinking and its consequences.  There seems to be no room left in the G.O.P. for reasoned, conservative argument; for positions that can be articulated and serve as a basis for opposition and compromise with the majority party of Democrats.

As Herbert writes,

A party that promotes ignorance (“Just say no to global warming”) and provides a safe house for bigotry cannot serve the best interests of our country. Back in the 1960s, John Lewis risked his life and endured savage beatings to secure fundamental rights for black Americans while right-wing Republicans like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were lining up with segregationist Democrats to oppose landmark civil rights legislation.

Since then, the right-wingers have taken over the G.O.P and Mr. Lewis, now a congressman, must still endure the garbage they have wrought.

One measure of how all this  plays out in reality across the country will be  public reactions to the health care legislation and the Republican’s efforts to repeal it, as we head towards the 2010 elections.