After the 2004 defeat of John Kerry, many concluded that it was how one spoke about cultural issues that made the difference, and that George W. Bush’s appeal to conservative religious people explained what had happened. In fact, a more powerful and complex force was at work in establishing Republican dominance in the United States, right-wing populism as embodied in the New Right. At work was much more than many people responding to several hot button, values-laden issues. The Democrats were up against a complex, powerful social movement that took decades to build and a mind-set that will prove very difficult to change. True, the outlook of the Christian right lends itself to right-wing populism, but they are two different but closely related phenomena. Today’s incarnation of Right-wing populism is equated with evangelical religion, but it could stand alone as it frequently does in Europe. Right-wing populism is at the heart of the New Right’s identity and is largely a reaction against social change and comes wrapped as ultra-Americanism and assertive nationalism, which got a great boost from the terrible events of September 11, 2001.
Failing to fully understand what they were up against, some Democrats slightly toned down their support for all forms of abortion, and many of them acquired a book on cognitive linguistics that correctly showed that Republicans were very skilled at recasting unpopular policies in favorable langage and at "branding" Democrats as very undesirable political products. The reading will do them some good, but it is necessary for them to learn much more about right-wing populism.
The main elements of populism are celebrating "the people" and battling elites. American right-wing populists believe the country is dominated by an elitist coalition of big government bureaucrats, old money aristocrats, and the so-called "New Class" of academicians, intellectuals, media people, and technocrats. The belief that the elite looks down on other Americans gives right-wing populism its great force which is expressed in anger, resentment, and determination to go to the polls and strike a blow against their enemies. The elitists are accused of trying to destroy American culture, and the New Right sees a nation divided by two starkly different cultures, one good and one evil. The term "liberal" has been redefined to mean people who are trying to overturn traditional American culture by supporting moral relativism, permissiveness, softness on crime, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and stem cell research. It is a simplistic black and white picture that bears little resemblance to reality but, with the help of a small army of propagandists, pundits and preachers, it has become the core frame of reference for the New Right. Growing belief that liberals are conspiring to undermine American culture and are contemptuous of ordinary Americans has generated paranoia and rage which has activated the New Right and enabled it to grow steadily as a political force over three decades. The fear and loathing of so-called elitists and their alleged plans to destroy American culture is far more important in motivating political action than particular issues like abortion or gay marriage.
American right-wing populism’s four main characteristics are majoritarianism– even in defiance of constitutional government, anti-elitism, intense nationalism, and anti-intellectualism. Historically, populism has led to anti-Semitism and racism. Polish writer Adam Michnik suggested that populism always contains an element of envy and employs demagoguery. When mixed with intense nationalism, it can produce fascism. However, it is likely that right populism would lose some of its charm in the United States if it were to spawn overt and excessive authoritarianism and obvious anti-Semitism or racism.
In the past, forms of populism in the United States have burned themselves out fairly quickly because they soon were manifesting more than a little bizarre and outrageous behavior. This latest incarnation has steadily grown over three decades, and zealous followers have been kept on somewhat acceptable paths by an army of radio talk show hosts, pundits, and very adept political managers. It has been no small accomplishment.
American right-wing populism it is very attractive to small entrepreneurs and ordinary Americans, often members of the white working class. In both Europe and America white males from the working class were particularly attracted to populism. They faced job insecurity and declining standards of living, and, especially in the United States, they resented the loss of privileges that had traditionally flowed from their status as white males. Yearning for the restoration of their roles as defenders and providers, some American men even joined militias, extremist organizations that display the repressive dimensions of right-wing populism when carried too far.
In the United States, however, right-wing populism appealed to an element that was not so important in Europe–evangelical, fundamentalist, and traditional Christianity. What has developed is, in the words of Italian writer Emilio Gentile defined "political religion, " defined as the use of religion , its language and symbols for political combat. The Christian adherents of the new right-wing populism have been called the Religious or Christian Right. Forty-two percent of American voters describe themselves as born-again, and about 75% of them have come to support the Republican party. In time the majority of traditionalist Catholics joined them on the religious right. It was unified by opposition to abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and homosexual practice. Some members of the Christian Right differ from non-religious right-wing populists in that they are interested in eroding the wall separating church and state, and they are even more opposed to an open society. A few on the Christian Right adhere to "dominionism," the belief that true Christians must acquire political power and lead the nation by carrying our their biblical principles.
The Christian Right took shape in the 1970, and were helped come into being by conservative operatives and strategists Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, E.E. McAteer, and Howard Phillips. Their strategy proved to be so effective that one would expect it to have been hatched by several brilliant sociologists. In an 1976 interview, Viguerie said they were busy building support among evangelicals and getting "preachers into politics." They focused on ministers like Reverend Jerry Falwell, who believed America was being ruled by the "wicked." Christian Voice, an important evangelical group, was then saying that America was being attacked by "Satanist forces." This kind of black and white thinking did not invite dialogue, only fear, anger, and determination to seize power. By 2005, members of the Christian Right were announcing that those who opposed efforts to strip Democratic Senators of the right to filibuster against Republican judicial nominees were enemies of God. Republican Congressman Christopher Shays admitted that his party had been transformed into the "party of theocracy." Former Senator John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, observed that his party had been transformed "into the political arm of conservative Christians."
In most respects, there was a meshing of views and attitudes between the evangelicals and the right-wing populists. Even many members of the evangelical Churches, while usually voting for Republicans, were much more inclined to agree with their ministers on the evils of feminism or abortion than on other questions. Perhaps they were acting at the polls more as right-wing populists than as evangelicals, but certainly the appeals to the Religious Right helped activate their populism. Whether as evangelicals or as populists, they were equally disposed to demand that the United States take a more assertive role in world affairs, and they were frustrated when foreign countries failed to heed the leadership of this virtuous nation. Both were likely to see the Vietnam War a noble venture. For decades, this burning nationalism or what scholars call "foreign policy fundamentalism" bad been firmly suppressed by a bipartisan foreign policy establishment. With the election of George W. Bush, those favoring a far more aggressive and assertive foreign policy took power, and public outrage over the terrible events of September 11, 2001 made it possible for them to implement their policies. For some on the Christian Right, the invasion of Iraq was predicted in the Book of Revelation and should be seem as a large step toward the events of end times when one third of humankind is slain and millions of sinners are sent to eternal hellfire and torment.
It is unclear how far and how fast right-wing populism can continue to spread across a population. It is growing by leaps in bounds in Islamic countries, where conditions are more than ripe for its spread. Experience in the United States has demonstrated its steady growth, and the continual spread of evangelical Christianity seems to prepare its way for still more New Right growth. In the 1950s, people who held views similar to those of the New right were considered part of the so-called lunatic fringe. By the 1980s, there were many more of these people, but their views were not considered mainstream. Today, the New Right dominates the nation’s most powerful political party and has reason to claim that its outlook is becoming that of mainstream America.
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!