Timothy Egan just wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times ("Building a Nation of Know-Nothings," August 25, 2010) about the deliberate misinformation campaign led by the right wing punditocracy and the tea party crowd regarding President Obama's birth certificate, and the surprising amount of ill-informed yokels who actually believe Obama is a Muslim. The sub-text, of course, is that Muslims are evil and Obama is working for them to sabotage America (meaning, we must assume, white Christian America). It's simply not true, of course, but that doesn't stop these cretins. The lie has already done its job. That's how propaganda works.
Rush Limbaugh, chortling like a sewage-fed hog, gleefully spreads the lies. “Tomorrow is Obama’s birthday," he said on August 3, "not that we’ve seen any proof of that. They tell us Aug. 4 is the birthday; we haven’t seen any proof of that.” Limbaugh, looking more like Hermann Goering every time we see him, uses innuendos and outright lies that are painfully obvious and insulting to anyone who values truth and intelligence, but that doesn't weed out his constituency of "ditto-heads." Truth? Not a value for these corn-fed Machiavellians. The end justifies the means, and they're on a righteous crusade. Intelligence? A trick performed by crafty intellectuals, eggheads, perhaps even Jews. Not good Germans, er, I mean Americans!
Dumb (note the Minutemen tag--a good old-fashioned right-wing hate group)
The woefully and willfully ignorant, a seemingly inexhaustible American resource, jump on such misinformation without daring to think critically (they make no bones about choosing "faith" over fact-checking), ever eager to play the classic role of the mark on the carnival midway. Gullible, wide-eyed and dumb as mud-fences, they walk right into every con game ever invented. The savvy snake-oil salesmen play with their fears and promise them the world--frighten them with outsiders and city slickers and colored (gulp!) people--and the yokels step all over themselves to pay the well-fed charlatans.
A quick glance at propaganda through the ages (such as the above clip from Nazi Germany) shows that this set-up is nothing new, but the victims of the con--who proudly shun history books--will always be the last to know. (Of course, the real victims are the targets of the propaganda, the outsiders and scapegoats who will pay dearly). The dupes are easy to stir up with fear and threat, with half-baked, unchecked theories, with faith. Always have been. (To hear author Chris Hedges equate the Christian Right with fascism, click HERE)
The modern world hasn't changed much. Hustlers no longer need to set up tents on the edge of town--hell, we pay for the privilege of having them speak in our living rooms! What are your fears, America? We'll play 'em for ya! Muslims want to build a shrine at Ground Zero? The Mexicans are running over the borders like vermin? The blacks are welfare cheaters and lazy shiftless bums? The socialists want to give us socialized medicine? The Italians, the Irish, the dirty rotten Poles, the Serbs? The Jews...Ah, the Jews control Hollywood, the newspapers, the college campuses--anything intellectual whatsoever. For our own safety let's round them all up, right? Let's protect our lilywhite skin privilege and our right to hurl "non-PC" insults and let's burn some books while we're at it! Books are bad! Books encourage thinking! Jesus--not the Jew Jesus, but the blond Jesus on suburban wall calenders--Jesus is backing us up a hundred percent. It's a damn crusade!
Dumb and Dumber
Sadly, understanding the modern world requires homework. You can't just get your info from biased radio talk show hosts or pundits with a political axe to grind--Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, Palin and Company. Sure, it's easier when things are simple, and prejudice and stereotypes are simple as can be, but truth--dare I say the word?--truth isn't simple. Read a book. Expand your consciousness. Challenge your beliefs. No matter what the hustlers may say, it's really not patriotic to be stupid.
Obersturmführer Beck says he also has a dream
Timothy Egan says, "It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?
"But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.
"It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?"