Hearst and McKinley

You don't have to raise an army to physically attack your political opponents.  You need only establish the rhetoric and then let the unhinged do their bidding.  Thanks to social media, this is easier than ever before.

Recently, there have been a spate of attacks on political figures, some on the Left some on the Right.   You may recall that guy who shot up a Congressional baseball game a few years back - he was living in a van.  A Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York was tackled onstage by an audience member.

More recently, a candidate for a State House seat in Pennsylvania was beaten up.  And of course, someone broke into Nancy Pelosi's house with the intent of kidnapping Ms. Pelosi and breaking her kneecaps unless she "confessed" to some conspiracy theory.  He assaulted her husband instead. 

What is even more sickening is that many on the right are laughing about it and making jokes, and worse yet, spreading vile conspiracy theories that it was a "Grindr date gone bad!"   And many on the right believe this, too, even as the assailant's social media is full of Qanon conspiracy postings and rants against Democrats.  His own boss documents how we went from homeless to liberal to conservative to conspiracy theorist, by watching television and surfing social media all  day long.

I wrote before about windup soldiers, twice - how you can create violence against a person or group simply by amplifying that message in the media and then waiting for some nutjob to take you up on it.   The granddaddy of this type of thing was William Randolph Hearst, who, in an editorial in his papers, opined that maybe someone oughta shoot President McKinley.   And someone took him up on this.

The outrage over this was such that no one tried it for nearly a century.  Bear in mind that Hearst was the Rupert Murdoch of his day - he controlled about half the newspapers in the country.  He was proud of his ability to shape public opinion, once famously quoted as saying, "You bring me the pictures, I'll give you the war!" and basically creating the Spanish-American war as a result.  Endless articles about the sinking of the battleship Maine fueled the fires of public fervor.  Only decades later do we learn that perhaps the Maine was sunk by a coal bunker explosion or simple ineptitude - not a mine or torpedo or attack by Spain.  No matter, we won the war, right?  And Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan hill and into the Whitehouse - another myth propagated by Hearst.

Like I said, people were appalled by this, and no decent newspaper called for the assassination of a President since then - until recent times.  Today, the rhetoric surrounding our political leaders is highly toxic.  Democrats are not just left-leaning centrists, but full-blown Communists or Socialists whose only goal in life is to destroy America and God himself.   Preachers preach from the pulpit that Democrats are literal demons doing the work of Satan.  And Republicans are not mute in this, either - voicing visceral hatred or mockery of their opponents.   A new generation of far-right Republicans are particularly nasty - and unapologetic - about it.

Meanwhile, Fox News - the new Hearst Newspapers - drones on every night about how Democrats are out to "destroy America" with transgender bathrooms, a topic that is as much of a mystery to most Democrats as it is to Republicans.   But to hear Tucker Carlson tell it, every single Democrat out there believes that children should have sex-change surgery and announced their preferred pronouns in Kindergarten.   Tucker has taken what is a fringe issue of the far, far, left, and made it seem like a major plank in the Democratic platform, when it isn't even a plank at all.

Mark was chatting with one of his Little Old Ladies (LoLs) at the Parcheesi club the other day, and she asked him what he thought about all this transgender hoopla.  She was amazed that Mark wasn't in favor of sex changes for children or allowing m-t-f trans people to compete in women't sports.  She just assumed that anyone who wasn't Republican, marched in lock-step with this very recent and somewhat radical agenda.   After all, that's what Fox News had been telling her for the last year - all Democrats are that way!

As I noted at the beginning of this piece, there have also been examples of violence against Republican candidates and politicians as well, but not as many.  But in those cases, too, the people perpetuating the violence were addicted to social media and saw Republicans as "the other" or less-than-human or the embodiment of evil - you get the picture.

What is disturbing about this trend is that it is expanding dramatically and quickly, through social media.  We are being taught not just to hate a political party, but races, religions and genders.  The online "incel" movement has spawned several mass-murders of women by people who spent way too much time online lamenting that they are not getting all the hot chicks they are entitled to.

Immigrants, particularly from Latin America, are also in the cross-hairs.  Trump described them as rapists and robbers and they have long been accused of "taking our jobs!"  Illegal immigrants, once the staple of low-wage jobs, are literally in the cross-hairs recently, as two men in Texas shot two migrants, killing one, at the border.   Meanwhile, two governors are shipping migrants around the country in a form of cheap political theater - playing games with people's lives.  Republicans laugh - "We owned the libs!" when in fact, they just illustrated what heartless and ineffective leaders they really are.

Muslims have been a target for some time now, particularly after 9/11.  And the amount of anti-Muslim hate crimes has continued to rise.  Anyone even appearing to be Muslim could be a target, such as Sikhs, who wear turbans.  Mosques have been bombed and shot up, not only in America, but worldwide. In each case, the perpetrators of this violence were nurtured online by a steady stream of Islamophobia - convinced that Muslims were "taking over" their country.

Jews have been targeted more recently, although attacks on Jews and synagogues have gone on just as background noise for some time now. The latest strategy seems to be to pit blacks against Jews, by spreading false claims that Jews were behind the entire slave trade and that Jews were against the civil rights movement.   Never mind that many progressive Jews were literally at the forefront of the movement, marching literally - literally - next to Dr. King.  Never mind that some gave their lives to that movement.

But it is the oldest game in the book - divide and conquer.  And the powers-that-be, or at least the trolls on the Internet, have set blacks against Hispanics, Blacks against Jews, and so on and so forth.  It only takes a few "celebrities" to come out of the closet with this nonsense to stimulate it and make it go mainstream.

It seems odd, as the same people who are spreading this antisemitism are the same sort of people who lynched blacks, back in the day.  If anything, the various minority groups - which combined may form a majority in a decade or two - have more in common than they do apart.  And that, of course, is the point.  To maintain their hold on power, the right has to divide the left - and get the different minority groups to hate one another.

And it ain't hard to do, either.  I mentioned before that many Black churches are very conservative in their social values.  So while they may have more in common than not, the Black Baptist preacher rails against the liberal social values from the pulpit.  The real enemy of the Blacks isn't the GOP, but those gays and transgenders!

It is a pretty efficient strategy, if you think about it.  And there is no end to how it can be applied.  You can even get people to turn on their own kind, each other, or even themselves.   Immigrants or children of immigrants, whose parents came here illegally and were granted amnesty under Reagan, rail against the next generation of migrants.  "We followed the rules!" they cry, "Send those people back!"   And it is not hard to do, either, as many people in Central and South American countries hate each other's guts - the Hispanic "community" is not homogeneous.

Hate, hate, and more hate.  And it is not unique to the United States, but a worldwide phenomenon.  We are being "influenced" online by an army of trolls, who fan the flames of hatred on social media.   One reason I am not on Facebook, or Twitter, or any other interactive Social Media platform is that I realized, early on, that these were toxic waste dumps that brought out the worst in people.  And I saw this years before Social Media existed - in online discussion groups, flame wars, trolls, SPAM, and so forth and so on.   It has been around a long, long time, it was only the explosion of Facebook and its many imitators that caused it to blossom with the general population.

What is the solution?  Beats me.  If I knew that, I wouldn't be typing some lame blog.  For the individual, it is to get off social media, entirely.    I find it humorous that people are complaining about Facebook or Twitter by posting messages on Facebook and Twitter.   A better idea is to just leave, close your account, read a good book, and meet some friends.   All social media is going to do is make you angry, depressed, bitter, and sad - and that is by design!

Sadly, there are a lot of people in this world who are just followers.  They want detailed instructions on what to do in life.  They even ask me for advice (the blind leading the blind!).  These are the kids who went to college and got a sociology degree and are now waiting tables.  "I only did what they told me to do! Everyone said to go to college!  I'd get a high-paying job!"   They neglect to mention that the media has been hyping the dangers of student loan debt for well over a decade now.  That is the problem with advice and why I don't give it - people take it selectively and then blame you, later on, when it goes horribly wrong.

We see this on social media today - people blindly follow "influencers" or buy products hawked by celebrities.  "I need to buy sneakers branded with then name of a celebrity!" they say, never bothering to wonder why a celebrity's name on a product makes it any better.  And yet we all do it, too.  Recently, Martha Stewart (remember her?) and Snoop Dog have been jointly promoting products such as BIC lighters.  They also have respective wines with their names and images on them as part of the "14 crimes" series of wines.  And yes, I bought a bottle of each - it was just too funny not to show to friends!

They were OK wines and less than $10 a bottle.  But I suspect that the exact same wine could be had for a dollar less per bottle, that dollar being that the Snoop and the Martha get for each bottle.  In other words, it isn't like they made the wine or anything (which some celebrities have done, I think mostly to dodge high property taxes).  They just licensed their name, and we consumers bite on it.

I have digressed, or have I?  Because it is part and parcel of the same deal - we all allow ourselves to be influenced, whether we admit to it or not.  And social media is a fire hose influence, blasting it right down your throat.  For most of us, it is just an amusement and at worst might cause us to make poor life choices in terms of investments (Bitcoin) or health (essential oils) or finances (consumer debt).  But for the mentally imbalanced, it may be the push needed to set them off...

...and set them off in a particular direction.  Tucker Carlson et al. will have a lot to answer for.