So take right now, for example, there is a right-wing populist uprising. It’s very common, even on the left, to just ridicule them, but that’s not the right reaction. If you look at those people and listen to them on talk radio, these are people with real grievances. I listen to talk radio a lot and it’s kind of interesting. If you can sort of suspend your knowledge of the world and just enter into the world of the people who are calling in, you can understand them. I’ve never seen a study, but my sense is that these are people who feel really aggrieved. These people think, “I’ve done everything right all my life, I’m a god-fearing Christian, I’m white, I’m male, I’ve worked hard, and I carry a gun. I do everything I’m supposed to do. And I’m getting shafted.” And in fact they are getting shafted. For 30 years their wages have stagnated or declined, the social conditions have worsened, the children are going crazy, there are no schools, there’s nothing, so somebody must be doing something to them, and they want to know who it is. Well Rush Limbaugh has answered - it’s the rich liberals who own the banks and run the government, and of course run the media, and they don’t care about you—they just want to give everything away to illegal immigrants and gays and communists and so on.
Well, you know, the reaction we should be having to them is not ridicule, but rather self-criticism. Why aren’t we organizing them? I mean, we are the ones that ought to be organizing them, not Rush Limbaugh. There are historical analogs, which are not exact, of course, but are close enough to be worrisome. This is a whiff of early Nazi Germany. Hitler was appealing to groups with similar grievances, and giving them crazy answers, but at least they were answers; these groups weren’t getting them anywhere else. It was the Jews and the Bolsheviks [that were the problem].
I mean, the liberal democrats aren’t going to tell the average American, “Yeah, you’re being shafted because of the policies that we’ve established over the years that we’re maintaining now.” That’s not going to be an answer. And they’re not getting answers from the left. So, there’s an internal coherence and logic to what they get from Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the rest of these guys. And they sound very convincing, they’re very self-confident, and they have an answer to everything—a crazy answer, but it’s an answer. And it’s our fault if that goes on. So one thing to be done is don’t ridicule these people, join them, and talk about their real grievances and give them a sensible answer, like, “Take over your factories.”
When the whole Teabagger movement started, I admit to sharing the populist outrage. A lot of stuff was happening at the time that I couldn’t understand. Banks were being bailed out while people were losing their jobs, retirement accounts, and homes. The principals of (most) these banks were spared even a haircut on their foolish, greed-fueled investments and inventions, while the cogs of the American economy suffered tremendous losses. The value of the money we did have kept decreasing as the FED printed more and more, giving it to Wall Street for free and guaranteeing it with our tax dollars. It was, and still is, a mad time.
But we messed up. We, who shared the outrage but not the background, politics, or religiosity of the Teabaggers, let them get co-opted by cynical demogogues like Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity. Instead of engaging, we laughed. We marginalized. And so what started as a movement protesting the rich getting richer while the poor got poorer, became a racist, xenaphobic mess of incoherent opposition to anything and everything (even policies and legislatuion such as universal health care that would be of huge benefit to all Americans).
Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that the large corporations that own the media got what they wanted - a fractured populace focused on opposing each other rather than challenging the status quo. With the cynical demogogues of Fox News whipping up the frenzy on the right, then the excitable lap dogs of MSNBC, CNN, etc. constantly reporting on it, we lost sight of what was really happening. And instead of having a mobilized and angry populace demanding financial reform, affordable health care, accountability in Washington, we ended up deepening the divisions in this country.