by Mike Honig
Glenn Beck is fearful for America. And he’s right to be.
We are at a perilous point in our history. Politics are shrill. Demagogues are everywhere. Political advantage trumps truth. The “Big Lie” is the strategy of choice in some circles.
Most of you don’t know me well. How could you? I’m just a weekly voice on the radio. And that’s if you actually listen to me every week!
So I’ll share something with you about myself: I’m picky about words. Words are all we have when we want to communicate with each other. When words are used carelessly, meaning gets muddied.
And words don’t just have definitions. They’re emotionally loaded. They’re full of subtext. When a powerful word is misappropriated often enough, it’s true meaning – and sometimes it’s true and essential power – becomes increasingly diluted and finally meaningless.
I’ve seen misappropriation of words like Holocaust, genocide, racism, and anti-Semitism. This is a small sample of words that have dark and powerful meanings. Meanings that get lost and weak with sloppy use.
Words like Liberal and Liberalism have been deliberately abused by political opponents to the point where they’ve become almost pejoratives.
Score one for the hate-mongers.
I’ve heard the name “Munich” thrown around by Conservatives for emotional impact when they literally hadn’t a clue what it refers to. They just know it scares people.
For the record, it’s for the infamous treaty that gave part of Czechoslovakia to Germany in the hope of avoiding war. What came to be called “appeasement”. Another badly misused word.
So what words are being misappropriated, diluted and distorted in today’s news?
The obvious ones are Socialist, Fascist, Communist, and Nazi. These are all totally different sociopolitical systems, but people throw them around like they’re all the same thing.
For the record, you CANNOT be a Socialist-Communist-Fascist, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to Conservative demagogues, or by reading the signs people bring to their rallies.
And now the words that are being used and abused are REALLY scary, because they’re the words we use to identify ourselves as a nation, a people, and a political system. They’re the words that express our values and hold us together.
“Patriots” are no longer just loyal Americans. They’re loyal, Conservative, religious, Christian, 2nd Amendment Americans.
“Literal Constitutionalists” can now literally choose which parts of the Constitution they want to take literally … Or at all.
Separation of Church and State now apparently can mean separating YOUR church from the State, but not necessarily theirs.
Sarah Palin apparently feels that “Pro-American” is now a term that applies to only some parts of America.
Michele Bachman thinks that everyone in Congress who doesn’t agree with her needs to be investigated because they may be “anti-American”!
And then there’s Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck is right to be fearful for America, but not for the reasons he likes to think. Glenn Beck needs to pay attention to the wise words of cartoonist Walt Kelly: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Anyone who reads or watches science fiction has seen alternate realities where Germany has won the war. There may be a scene where Hitler is standing on a stage in front of a huge Nazi flag in Washington, D.C. flanked by enormous pictures of George Washington, claiming legitimacy by association.
It’s a spine-tingling, viscerally wrenching tableau.
But that’s what I feel every time I see Glenn Beck sitting in front of posters of George Washington, Ben Franklin and Samuel Adams — Obama-style posters, no less! It gives me the creeps. But there he is, doing the same thing as the alternate reality Hitler: Claiming legitimacy by association.
Oh, did I just mention Hitler?
Remember the point I made near the beginning of this commentary? The one about being careful about the words I use?
Let’s define Fascism and Nazism.
Fascism is basically a centralized non-Democratic system. A leader or strongman is at the top of the power structure. All power and decisions flow down from him. Business is privately owned. Big business often collaborates with government in achieving the leader’s goals, but is compelled by government, and is often in partnership with it. Individual rights don’t exist. Law is what the leader says it is.
Nazism is essentially Fascism with a racist streak. It claims to be pro-worker (hence National Socialists), but is actually self-serving; in collusion with big business as suits its purposes.
So let’s analyze why we should all be fearful for our country.
There are rightwing demagogues who claim to be for the working man and small business while proposing policies that favor the rich and big business.
They claim to be for personal liberty while demanding restrictions on your personal freedoms from government, such as government interference in where you can build your mosque or when you must submit to organized prayer.
And then the scariest thing … The thing that has come to dominate the public conversation – is the new dominance of “The Big Lie” strategy.
Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels explained his strategy like this:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” UPDATE (2014-JAN. 31): I have begun to doubt that this is a ‘real’ quote (i.e., ever came from Goebbels in speech or writings). More to come.
All you have to do is replace the word “State” with Conservatives, Republicans, Rightwing Extremists, and it fits today’s public discourse perfectly.
I’ve been reading some of Hitler’s speeches going back to the 1920s. There is a common thread to all of them: Tell the people what they want to hear. Don’t ask them to do anything hard or painful. Tell them that all their problems are someone else’s fault. ANYONE else’s fault. But not theirs, and not the demagogues’.
The demagogues will deliver them from their problems, but make someone ELSE pay.
They won’t admit it, and a few may not even realize it, but Rush Limbaugh, Dick Armey, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and many others … particularly Glenn Beck … These people and their allies are strategic political descendents of men – Nazis – who honed lying to a fine art.
So when I mention Hitler and Nazis and Fascists… I’m not just throwing those words around. I’m not ignorant of what they mean and what they are. I’m not using those words as figures of speech or for shock value or just because they sound scary.
One of my favorite sayings is this: “An educated electorate is a prerequisite for a democracy.”
So I’ll end by asking this of you: When you hear the Becks and Limbaughs making outrageous claims about people, doubt it. When they try to scare you, doubt it.
Get educated. Seek information from at least 3 reputable journalistic or historical sources, especially before you believe anything slanderous, amazing or terrifying.
Your ignorance is their power. Don’t give it to them.