Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Brussels And The Power of Nightmares

David Ortiz's fearless and unifying response to the terror attacks in Boston is one we ought to emulate, not the fearful hate mongering clogging up the airwaves today

After the attack in Brussels yesterday we saw the ever more predictable response. (Note as well we didn't see this response after similar attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Turkey.) Trump renewed his calls to ban Muslims from entering America and use torture. Ted Cruz, ever the eager Eddie Haskell trying to curry favor with the talk radio masses, proposed that law enforcement "secure" and "patrol" Muslim neighborhoods within our own borders. If there is a similar attack in this country I can expect that internment camps will be Republican orthodoxy within a matter of days.

Of course, this kind of stuff only helps the extremists who plan these attacks. As anyone except the American news media appears to know, terrorism is a tactic intended to provoke a disproportionate response that will hurt bystanders and thus get the people affected to support the cause of the terrorists, which they would normally find to be too extreme. "Carpet bombing," torture, and mass detentions plays right into the hands of terrorists. Of course, Trump and Cruz could care less, since fear is their biggest selling point, especially for Trump. When people are afraid, their lizard brains kick in and they become children, looking for mommy or daddy to protect them. Authoritarians like Trump know this, and feed off of it.

Keep in mind, however, that Trump and Cruz are merely less subtle practitioners of this dark art, which had been mastered by Dick Cheney and his crew of neo-cons. I've said it before and I will say it again: the most important political documentary of our times is the BBC's 2004 tour de force The Power of Nightmares. In three parts it tells parallel histories of neo-conservatism and Islamist extremism. The basic thesis is that after the failures of the political elite to improve the lives of their constituents, many of them turned to using fear of the other as a justification for staying in power.

Dubya and his handlers certainly understood this. Before 9/11 he was a semi-legitimate president whose one accomplishment was pushing through tax cuts for the wealthy that had little broad support. He exploited the attacks (which his administration had failed to prevent) to both gain popularity and re-election, and also to make the neo-con wet dream of invading Iraq to come true.

While Bush, Cheney, and their gang used the power of nightmares to advance an imperialist agenda under the auspices of "preserving freedom" and "expanding democracy," Trump and Cruz are more nihilistic. Cruz seems willing to say anything if it will appeal to the hardcore conservative base (hence his "New York values" comment). He knows that these people hate and fear Muslims, and speaks to them accordingly. Trump, I am more convinced, is not putting on an act. I really and truly think that he is a committed fascist, even if he wouldn't use that term. (More on that in a future post.) Like any good fascist, he wants to "cleanse" the nation and make it great through military conquest ("we're going to take their oil!") Increasing fear only helps him.

People who are usually level-headed can lose their minds in moments like this, driven by the imperatives of their fear reflex. If we are to break out of the fifteen year nightmare we have been living in, we must stop living in fear and stop looking for some authoritarian daddy figure to protect us. If not, the nightmare will just keep going on and on and on.

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