I read this this morning, on Andrew Sullivan. I lift it from there, because it captures the essence of what I've been trying, far less eloquently, to say for months. The quote is by Henry Fairlie, a person I admit to not knowing, in a book I admit to not having read. (The "Detroit" in the comment refers to the Republican convention there, in 1980.)
"The America which Europe fears is the America of the Reaganites. The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of ‘‘better dead than red’’; the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy.It's the paradox. The far-right fear-mongerers claim to love this country. But they most certainly do not. They love their own ideas, their fears, their hatreds. They do not love democracy, the Constitution, or the idea that elections have consequences. They do not love the melting pot, the vibrancy of cities, the marketplace of ideas. They do not love the sort of discourse on which a democracy is based, on which it depends. They love shouting down, lying, and denying.
The America of fear. For it is in fear that the ungoverned and the unfree are doomed to live. And there was this America in control at Detroit. It is time that we reminded ourselves, and said aloud and more often, that it is from these people that nastiness comes. It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right.
No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within. The Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy. If the neo-conservatives cannot sniff danger, surely the rest of us can be alert."
In dark times, I've sometimes taken comfort from the idea -- based more on hope than anything else -- that a society probably only needs a small number of brilliant people to keep it going. To invent the next antibiotic, to discover the next fuel, to write the next song. Is one percent enough? I have no idea. But when I see kids getting genius grants, winning rare scholarships (many, if not most, immigrants or first generation Americans), I take a little comfort that they may be able to cancel out the hate and stupidity that passes for discourse in our politics, to negate the general dumbing-down.
But then I read the latest outrage from any of the RWS™ -- the hate and stupidity and unrepentant lies -- and I think, no, I'm wrong. A few geniuses, a few people who still love the country in all its messy colors, may not be enough. You can't create geniuses. But the constant bombardment of lies, relentlessly aimed at people too frightened to stop and think, can create enough anger to spill the soup, to burn us all. Stupid spreads. Hate spreads. Genius doesn't.
If there have always been fear-based politics and demagoguery, it's never had the infrastructure that we see now: a perfect storm of angry airwaves; a pure propaganda cable network peopled by the egomaniacal and ill-informed; members of Congress elected not for their intelligence and thoughtfulness or willingness to do tough work, but for their hyper-partisanship; masses of poorly educated people made to feel threatened and disenfranchised as ones very unlike them ascend to prominence and power; and, yes, the internet. It's testing the limits of our form of government.
From what I see, it looks like it's not going to work out.
[And for those who might think it elitist or condescending to refer to uneducated masses, read this.]