Since right-wing insurrectionists stormed the Capitol on January 6 with the vague but violent idea of taking over the government, observers are paying renewed attention to the threat of right-wing violence in our midst. For all our focus on fighting socialism and communism, right-wing authoritarianism is actually quite an old threat in our country. The nation’s focus on fighting “socialism” began in 1871, but what its opponents stood against was not government control of the means of production—an idea that never took hold in America—but the popular public policies which cost tax dollars and thus made wealthier people pay for programs that would benefit everyone. Public benefits like highways and hospitals, opponents argued, amounted to a redistribution of wealth, and thus were a leftist assault on American freedom.
On January 21, 2017, tens of millions of peaceful protesters gathered (not one single incidence of violence) and showed tremendous unity. Unfortunately, the pride of that day never stood a chance of raising the level of consciousness of a madman (or his enablers and followers) who had stolen his first election. Our government completely unraveled for the next 4 years. My non profound observation over the decades is that too often violence is the catalyst for change.
Our history of peaceful elections and transfer of power (without military assistance) have been a safe haven. Now, 10’s of thousands of troops (very necessary) occupy D.C. so the 46th president (fairly, legally elected) can take the oath of office without getting killed and to prevent any attempts at another coup. It is heartbreaking but is the reality few actually thought would be seen in modern times.
Maintaining a democracy and rule of law takes work by an educated, informed, and involved electorate. We must not ever forget; never again.
Dear Professor Cox Richardson (showing my respect for your work),
or dear Heather (showing my sentiments),
I am a new paying subscriber after having read the free version for some time, because "content must be paid by those who consume it" if we are to have a balanced information society.
I am an Austrian citizen, live on the edge of Vienna, with many ties to the United States of America, having lived there as an exchange student and having visited the country more than 80 times since then.
I engage in US politics and society because I see all around me in Europe and elsewhere that the US has a leading role in shaping global politics, global political and social values, global economic and environmental behavior and global culture.
Sometimes Twitter participants have told me "you are not from here, so stay out". That would be wrong, because just like US right-winger behavior (left, too, but less at this time) influences anti-democratic currents here in Europe, moderate and progressive US initiatives encourage similar initiatives in European society.
So, after having put my money where my mouth has been :-): Please continue your good work, Heather!
Moedling (Vienna), Austria
There are additional sides of this. Listen to Jenna Ryan after her arrest in connection with the insurrection in the capitol on January 6:
“I don’t feel a sense of shame or guilty from my heart. I feel like I was basically following my president. I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do,” Ryan said. “I do feel a little wronged in this situation because I’m a real estate agent and this has taken my company. This has taken my business. I am being slandered all over the internet, all over the world and all over the news and I’m just like a normal person.”
Somebody else, speaking in 1960 after their arrest in connection with World War 2:
“To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing. My heart was light and joyful in my work, because the decisions were not mine. Obeying an order was the most important thing to me. It could be that is in the nature of the German. I had to watch the madness of destruction, because I was one of the many horses pulling the wagon and couldn't escape left or right because of the will of the driver, I now feel called upon and have the desire to tell what happened. I was never an anti-Semite. … My sensitive nature revolted at the sight of corpses and blood... I personally had nothing to do with this. My job was to observe and report on it. I am certain, however, that those responsible for the murder of millions of Germans will never be brought to justice.”
(Of course the somebody else is Adolf Eichmann. This is an assemblage of quotes from comments he made over several years. I'm not saying the crimes of the insurrectionists in general, or Ryan in particular, are similar to Eichmann. But the mindset is frighteningly similar.)
What I find most upsetting is the collective American weak mindedness that allowed a sociopathic grifter to not only win the presidency, but to turn the entire country upside down with little if any real resistance from the citizenry and more importantly, the people we elect and trust to protect the country.
I don't know how you do it, Heather. Almost every day, a balanced, thoroughly informed, beautifully written, incisive analysis of the working out of history in some sphere of the US. This time it is the evolution of "thought" up to the point of claims that "the federal government must turn over all public lands to the states to open them to private development" by a series of unhinged, bigoted, desperately selfish men (they were all men) from Rush Limbaugh and before, to Bundy, and now the loons who rushed the Capitol. And now want to be pardoned.
Your lesson for today is so important, and the world may be in a state to listen to it, put so luminously. I guess there is space to think about the Fairness Doctrine again, this time in the guise of a Federal Communications Commission (or whoever) for regulation of communication platforms and the enforcement of editorial accountability.
Reading your words from afar (the UK) there is one aspect of the history that you unfold that seems to be understated. In Europe - in our crowded countries - we have always given weight to the contribution of community to problems and to their solutions. In the wide-open spaces of America, you have always elevated the status of the single man fighting alone for his family, and downplayed, even disparaged, the role of collective solutions.
To me, the lot of them - Weaver, Koresh, McVeigh, Bundy (Cliven and Ammon) - all stand in the tradition of John Wayne and High Noon. They would say "proud tradition". I would say - dangerous. They would say "patriotic". I would say - undermining the nation by elevating private greed.
Of that lot, Koresh is, maybe, a different case. The role of cult psychology in a nation that fed on camp meetings and exclusive group self-identification is another story you should tell one day, and I recommend one of my compatriots to you: Fanny Trollope, Anthony's mother, The Domestic Manners of the Americans, 1832.
Thank you, again, Heather.
This is a helpful and long overdue clarification of "socialism," a term loosely bandied about by so many but understood by so few. Its use seems especially rampant by people whose only point of reference are the old communist models of Russia and China.
I think part HCR's comment isn't exactly correct. As a social theory, socialism posits that a collective cooperation of citizens will make all governmental institutions public. Yet as practiced in Denmark, Sweden, or India for example, private ownership exists in tandem with an emphasis on individual liberties, and collective cooperation is manifested in accessible and "free" health care, education, family leave, as well as those things that also exist in the US - public highways, libraries, and police and fire services, to name a few.
What's not so "free" is that income taxes are typically higher but they are offset, in part, by lower out of pocket expenses than we have here.
While both Socialism and Communism utilize some version of centralized planning, communism is the model where "property and economic resources are owned and controlled by the state (rather than individual citizens)."
HCR's conclusion, however, is accurate whether living in a capitalist or socialist state - popular public policies which cost tax dollars and supported through progressive tax systems, where wealthier people have to help pay for programs that would everyone - is what chaps the asses of not only the 1% but of politicians who cater to those not particularly interested in the welfare of others so long as "they got theirs."
What we fail to realize is that "the efficiencies of the market" are designed to optimize profit when demand opportunities exist, but assume that 1) everyone has the means to purchase or not purchase as they like, or 2) if they don't have the means, that's their problem. In biblical terms, capitalism is equivalent to "I'm not my brother's keeper."
Look, I'd love to optimize my own life choices whenever and wherever possible. At one time I could. Cancer took away several years of "economic opportunity" from me and now it's harder to do so. Cancer wasn't my "fault" nor was the inability to work for some time. I'm not asking for anything free, but when the GOP was hot on "repeal and replace" of the ACA, in realized that circumstances had changed. When my carrier increased premiums from about $1200/month to $5000/month at the end of the year while I was still in treatment, it was clear I no longer fit the capitalist assumption that everyone can afford to choose or not. I couldn't afford at that point. And despite a diagnosis of "incurable Stage 4 cancer," I saw many people in far worse shape than I. Yet few of the people I know who grouse about socialism would've said "too bad, I guess you'll just have to die."
To me, that's the difference. No one should have to choose between bankruptcy and death, or unemployment vs building skills, or not having access to safety and security services like police and firemen.
If we're so scared of socialism then we cannot allow every industry to operate under a "maximize profits" model. Health care, education, pharmaceutical development, as examples, should be limited to a cost plus model. The government can and should help fund research and basic training and basic health services. Oh, by the way, that's consistent with a democratic socialist model but don't tell anybody.
One tool for deep gardening to get a measure of control over the deep roots of right wing terrorism is reinstatement of a Fairness Doctrine that includes social media. Anyone know of an updated version of HR 4401?
First thing I do every morning is read HCR’s newsletter on my iPhone. Yet for the first time I noticed a heart at the top so I thought I would “like” this one, surely the best, most historically thorough summation of the right wing movement I’ve read, and for the first time discovered the comments. I usually avoid comment sections since eventually trolls create conflict and debase the conversation, but what a heartening conversation I find here. Thank you for your insightful comments and calm, respectful tone.
Right wing voters have strained at a socialist gnat and swallowed a fascist camel.
Should we lobby to bring back the Fairness Doctrine?
Thanx again Prof, for the history lesson, much of it spanning my or my parents’ lifetime. I lived thru the prejudice of the “Welfare Cadillac” perception that black ppl on assistance could afford a uselessly expensive ride. No one seemed to notice the GM Executives where those Caddies were made getting inflated salaries plus bonuses far in excess of most workers annual salary.
Fact is, I was raised white, middle class. My Great Depression era parents’ left inner city St. Louis for the ‘burbs. I also attended an integrated high school and learned that black teens were the same as white teens. This continued in my military service where black & white men lived, ate, showered and worked together and I sometimes had a black sergeant supervising me.
Then, in the late ‘60s I turned on, tuned in & dropped out. Me, the white middle class young man now living in rundown inner city apartments with other slackers of both races. Trouble is, we did work for the most part. I never took any government assistance, and aside from the times of travel I worked for minimum wages usually 48 hours a week, saving money for the next trip. Yet, ppl saw me as a lazy Hippie. Profiled by my shoulder length hair and beard as a non-contributing member of society.
But, I was Leftist Working Class American, the same as most of those Right Wing Nuts who tried to overthrow the government last week. The only difference is one of perception; of being able to think critically and weigh Liberty against Responsibility. The ignorant tRump cultists don’t seem to realize that total liberty without a sense of responsibility is anarchy.
Dear Professor Heather Cox Richardson,
I'm a retired 5th and 6th grade public school teacher in California's Central Valley. In the years I was a teacher, 1981-2017, I witnessed a marked decline in the time and support we were allocated for teaching social studies. In 1983, A Nation at Risk ushered in increasing emphasis on standards, high stakes testing, and accountability. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act became No Child Left Behind and then Race to the Top. Standards in reading, language, and math drove our curriculum, and since social studies wasn't tested in every grade, teachers were discouraged, sometimes mandated, by administrators to skip it. At the same time, state-adopted social studies texts (which most teachers didn't find time to use) became more narrowly focused on the glorious rich white founding fathers and the courageous white male explorers and pioneers, etc. I did my best to teach a more balanced and representative social studies anyway through reading and language arts by using my own materials and projects (including research reports and presentations on one Native American tribe per student and another on an historic American woman) but it still greatly concerns me that our public school system doesn't prioritize the teaching and learning of social studies. Is this to some extent deliberate, do you think?
Thank you for your daily letters and twice-weekly talks. I'm learning so much from you, and I'm fascinated and deeply grateful.
I like your timeline leading us from reconstruction to today and the breakdown of the intent behind those who fear “socialism”.
I was also fascinated by your assessment of today’s tRump followers as not being cult members but rather the recipients of PsyOps. That really rings true, as I have felt that we’ve been led into this sharp division we are in today intentionally.
Thank you for your work.
3 days, 9 hours, 38 minutes, 45 seconds
until Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at 12:00:00 noon (Washington DC, District of Columbia)
Thank, Prof. Richardson, For me, this was the most relevant for understanding this time of all your letters. Now the sequel is what we do about it. Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine sounds important. My main fear tonight is the one-party rule coupled with the will to use violence. For me, January 6th was the tip of the iceberg. We are on the U.S. Titanic and one part of the Right Wing Extremist Iceberg has just ripped one of the compartments of our vessel -- the institution of the Congress. The other compartments/institutions have been weakened and could soon follow. The safety net life rafts are too few based on a stupid regulation that based the number of life rafts on the size of the ship rather than the number of passengers like not using science in a pandemic. More life rafts weren't needed because the multiple water-tight compartments meant it was unlikely to sink. The life rafts that did get used were not filled to capacity because they didn't think the mechanism that lowered the rafts into the water would collapse. However, there may be some hope with the U.S. Democracy, the new administration, if there is still time. Too many passengers/citizens are totally unaware of how dangerous a time this is. Gerrymandering, voter suppression are taking us toward one-party rule. We are an oligarchic kleptocracy now; the U.S. Democracy may not get here in time to save so many from a watery grave while the band plays Nearer, My God, to Thee. The insurgents were singing the national anthem to show their patriotism.
Thank you for highlighting the key role that Rush Limbaugh plays in our current dysfunction. That is a point that I have long made. He has helped radicalize millions with his anti-government rhetoric. Without him, there’s no Fox News, no Sean Hannity, no Tucker Carlson, etc., etc. In particular, his mainstreaming of the despicable term “feminazi” has always infuriated me beyond belief. It both demeans the Feminist movement (which is its goal) and at the same time whitewashes the true evil that was the Nazi party.
Many of the current MAGA mob refer to Trump as "my president", as in "mein fuhrer". There is also a lot of references to Trump being "God's choice" and so on.
A purely political leader of the government has been adopted as a spritual leader to whom many have ceded control of their lives, as people did with Jim Jones, David Koresh, and other messianic cult leaders. These people put themselves beyond discussion, debate, reasoning, and compromise; the essential elements of a free, democratic, self-governing society. They habitate a world impervious to doubt. The problem now is that there are millions of them.
I agree with HCR that this has been part of our body politic from the beginning. The Pilgrims didn't here come to escape religeous intolerance, they came to institutionalize it.