Thursday, May 19, 2016

Trump, Demogoguery, Indecency and Us

This frightening political season has been rife with demagoguery and indecency.

The prime demagogue has been Donald Trump but there have been examples of other much more subtle demagoguery. Much of it has been in a biased establishment press that reports a favored half of the story — the half that pleases its corporate owners and feeds their greed.

Earlier this week it was widely reported that Bernie Sanders’ supporters had threatened to the chair of the Nevada Democratic party with violence, but we never find out what might drive them to such extreme measures.

Nor are we even certain that the threats originated with them. Dirty tricks of just this sort are not unusual in American politics. They are the by-products of big money, desperation and power.

Question: Could the threats be from agents provocateurs?

Once, the press sought to get to the root of events. Not today. The mainstream media are now controlled by the powerful and the greedy.  The news, in its search for profit, is drawn to entertainment and spectacle.

The the quest for truth goes begging. The maw of NOW must be fed.

The words “demagoguery” and “indecency,” take me back to this nation’s hither-to most public and dangerous bully and demagogue, Senator Joseph McCarthy. The time, the early ’50’s, is known to this day as “The McCarthy Era.” McCarthy’s lies and innuendos ruined the lives of thousands. The senator’s message was of fear. It was fueled with scapegoats.

Unlike the passive, self-serving role of the press today, back then the press was instrumental in bringing McCarthy down. The unblinking eye of television broadcast live the Army-McCarthy hearings and the Army’s attorney Joseph N. Welch exposure of McCarthy.

Consider his scolding of McCarthy. “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” intoned Welch to an arrogant, dismissive McCarthy.

Consider Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly’s famous, meticulously crafted McCarthy exposé on CBS Reports. You can find the transcript here:

In the broadcast’s coda, Murrow noted that McCarthy had once cited Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in warning of the dangers of Communism.

Murrow, eyes fixed on the camera and his audience, read: “Earlier, the senator asked, ‘Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?’ Had he looked three lines earlier in Shakespeare's ‘Caesar,’ he would have found this line, which is not altogether inappropriate: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

And so it is today as we stand on the threshold of “The Trump Era.”

There’s plenty of “fault” to go ‘round, but the prevalence, acceptance and even celebration of indecency in this culture explains much of it.

If we were to ask Trump, as we should, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” he might well answer with his branded arrogance, “What does decency have to do with it? What does decency have to do with ANYTHING. I don’t DO ‘decency!”

Indeed his millions of followers love him for his indecency. Once decent Republican politicians, caving to power, have now embraced indecency in their support of the presumptive nominee.

In an earlier time this political season would be considered a spectacle of the obscene. Utterly repulsive.

Today, the media thrives on it. We laugh at rude put-downs. We fawn over hate-mongering talk radio hosts, who make millions off their venom. The most popular films today are bloody displays of brutal violence and foul language.

This is called entertainment. Over the years it has grown and melded with politics and, yes, produced unchallenged war and riches for the arms industry.

We are literally amusing ourselves to death, as author and critic Neil Postman warned years ago in a book of that name.

Murrow and Friendly were right: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

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