Alan Zendell, January 19, 2023
Once upon a time, there was a mythical place called America, where the free and the brave lived, to which everyone looked as the Land of Opportunity. Each generation of Americans, especially those not far removed from immigrant status, lived the promise that their children would have more and live better than they did. In an evil, oppressive world, America was where the good guys lived. Flush from victory over the Nazis and other Fascists, it was the savior of the Free World. It and its neighbor, Canada, were the only major nations that were relatively untouched by the war, no bombed-out cities or devastated industries, and no one could threaten them because only America had the atomic bomb.
In school, I learned a sanitized version of America’s history of slavery and genocide, and the Russians soon had thermonuclear weapons of their own. Third world countries who America claimed as allies turned out to be supplicants run by brutal dictators we helped keep in power. After revolutions in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran, after the French were evicted from Indochina (Vietnam) leaving the vacuum we foolishly filled, and after our “friends” in Saudi Arabia allowed the ISIS movement to gestate and flourish, culminating in nine-eleven, the myth of America was replaced by reality.
Still, conditions in most of the world were so bad for so many millions, people continued to flock to America in droves, turning it browner, yellower, and blacker each year, and we learned some truths about ourselves. We are not homogeneous in our openness and generosity. We do not universally welcome others with open arms and treat everyone as equals, nor do we all believe everyone should have the opportunities we have.
Among the people who first recognized that was Roger Ailes, an ambitious television executive with a talent for reading and influencing masses of people. Ailes perceived that much of America felt disenfranchised, left out by the wave of progressivism that was leveling the playing field, promoting education and health care systems, and building a national retirement system. He understood that the disaffected third of America was comprised of two disparate groups: the wealthy, who feared they would have to finance all that progressivism, since only they had the resources to pay for it; and at the other end of the spectrum, evangelists, racists, white supremacists, xenophobes, misogynists, extremists, anarchists, the chronically unemployed, and everyone who felt cheated by “the system.”
All of them, and this was Ailes’ true genius, were angry and looking for someone to blame for their circumstances, and many of them were well armed. He convinced Ruppert Murdoch to create the Fox News Channel, which wouldn’t be about news or journalistic integrity, but a propaganda machine to activate and energize the angry masses. His final stroke of genius was to recruit Donald Trump to lead his social revolution.
Remember how shocked we were when Trump won the presidency? Remember how it felt to realize that more than a third of us supported everything Ailes and Trump stood for, and they were able to stir up enough anger and hatred for the Clintons among the rest of the population that suddenly America wasn’t sure who it was anymore? And what did progressives and decent moral people do? They screamed in ineffectual protest, hoping America would figure out what a terrible mistake it had made and that Trump would ultimately destroy himself, if he didn’t destroy America first. As we know, he came dangerously close to destroying America, even as his own star waned.
Now, we’re faced with the destruction of another myth, that once Trump lost power, everything would return to normal. We made a good start, electing Joe Biden in 2020 and giving him a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress. There’s nothing like dodging a bullet to make us realize how fragile everything we hold dear is, but the bullet of Trumpism turned out to be a fragmentation grenade spewing shrapnel everywhere it touched, and those fragments may be as deadly as Trump.
One is Marjorie Taylor Greene, who proclaims that she represents the face of the Republican Party, not the fringe her critics relegate her to. Another is Matt Gaetz, who after leading the movement to disembowel House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, after getting concessions McCarthy swore he would never accede to, mocked him publicly, claiming that the only reason he stopped demanding changes was there was nothing more to ask for. Our House Speaker, who is second in line for the presidency, is completely emasculated and serves at the mercy of a gang who supported the January 6th insurrection and refused to acknowledge the election of President Biden.
I probably should have begun with the standard disclaimer – any resemblance between this America and the mythical one I grew up in is purely coincidental.