This couldn’t be a worse time in America’s turbulent history for progressives to be defeatist and apathetic. Today’s Republican Party, in all its unapologetic nihilism and sociopathy, could potentially make substantial gains in November’s midterm elections – if not take over Congress entirely. The United States is literally at a fork in the road: one path heads toward enlightenment and egalitarianism; the other, toward theocratic despotism. The choices we make in November could determine which path America takes.
Progressives really need to take the possibility of a right-wing authoritarian regime in the United States much more seriously, and take the necessary steps to prevent these forces from gaining power. That was the message DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas delivered to an audience who gathered last Wednesday night at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles organized by the Los Angeles Media Reform Group.* Moulitsas spoke and signed copies of his new book, American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.
In the book, Moulitsas compares American right-wing extremism – made up of elements such as anti-abortionists, religious fundamentalists, anti-tax Tea Party activists, and militia groups – to the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban. Moulitisas says there is very little difference between the values of the American right and the Taliban, and both groups are willing to use force if they don’t get their way politically. He points out that the American right shares these views with the Taliban: theocratic tendencies; a zeal to keep women as second-class citizens; a pathological aversion to sexuality; a distaste for modernity; and a hostility toward science, education and intellectualism.
“It’s really fun to laugh at them,” Moulitisas told the audience, referring to the American right. “as long as they don’t shoot people up and take power.”
The comparison to the Taliban has elicited criticism from an unexpected place: other liberal commentators. The American right isn’t committing widespread, sadistic violence of the kind the Taliban are infamous for, Moilitsas’s liberal critics say. But Moulitsas counters that American right-wing extremists are quite capable of such behavior, and have done so in the past – for example lynching in the Jim Crow South. It’s the modern American legal system that is constraining right-wing extremists from carrying out their most violent fantasies. That’s why, Moulitsas said, there have been concerted efforts by the right to delegitimize the American legal system and undo the protections vulnerable minority groups have won in recent decades.
“We can’t sit here and pretend that this isn’t a violent movement…just because (conservative commentator) Ann Coulter hasn’t beheaded anybody,” said Moulitsas. “The fact is, they’re primed for violence.”
Moulitsas pointed to the uptick in violent incidents connected to right-wing extremism since Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008. So far, he said, the Tea Party has served as a non-violent outlet for right-wing aggressiveness, but there could be a shift into more widespread violent incidents if Republicans don’t take control of Congress in November, and especially, if President Obama wins re-election in 2012.
“These are not people who value democracy,” Moulitsas said.
It’s troubling that some on the left want to downplay the threat that right-wing extremism in the United States poses. The famous saying by novelist Sinclair Lewis is a warning all of us must heed: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Pretending that fascism can’t happen here because that isn’t part of the American psyche is just plain naive and dangerous. It’s part of the myth of American exceptionalism at its best, Moulitisas says. People are capable of the worst atrocities under the right circumstances – say, an economic collapse or perpetual warfare. And those who seek absolute power – as many on the American right desire – will do anything to get it. Many civilizations throughout history have degenerated from enlightened societies to corrupt dictatorships after some sort of colossal shock or change. Many people of good conscience were either too fearful or too dismissive of the threat to stop that descent.
The U.S. is going through such a shock right now. Moulitsas is correct when he says that we can’t be polite to or negotiate with extremists, no matter where they reside, in the Middle East or in America. Our society – including our media and our civic institutions – must no longer enable and legitimize right-wing extremist rhetoric, but expose and ostracize it.
Photographs by Talib Haqq, Wadeva Images.
*The LA Media Reform group is sponsoring this event in collaboration with the LA Progressive, Alliance Hollywood, and Netroots Nation:
- The Los Angeles Media Reform Group focuses on holding news outlets accountable to the public interest and encouraging citizens to create their own media, and to be critical consumers of the mass media. Its next annual workshop will be Saturday, February 26th, 2011, at Occidental College.
- The LA Progressive is a two-year-old electronic magazine that comments daily on issues of political, social, and cultural consequence to progressives in Los Angeles and everywhere.
- Alliance Hollywood is a social advocacy group that utilizes the voice, media and financial power of the entertainment industry to fight corporate interest groups on Capitol Hill.
- Netroots Nation amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate.
LA Media Reform Group Members: Dick Price, Nomiki Konst, Sharon Kyle, Sylvia Moore, John Amato — back row. Amanda Shaffer and Will Coley — front row. Missing: Anjuli Kronheim, Crystal Rafferty, and Tapia Martinez.