GROWING UP WITH McCARTHY – Garry Armstrong

Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame journalist Garry Armstrong shares a very personal memory that casts a light on the current moment of American history.

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Antoine (l) and Gary (r) Armstrong at the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame ceremony.

Like Garry, I remember Eric Sevareid. I also remember Garry for his reporting from Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Garry’s SERENDIPITY memory came to my attention this morning after a McCarthy type threatening comment appeared in response to Views from the Edge‘s post contrasting the character and behavior of Senator John McCain and the president who disdained him. Garry and I are the same generation. Our experiences are parallel. We both wear hearing aids, but we still believe our eyesight is as keen as it was when Joe McCarthy threatened a democratic republic. – Gordon C. Stewart, August 28, 2018.

Ted Cruz and demagogic innuendo

Notice how it works in this speech attacking President Barack Obama. The President stood, said Ted Cruz, on the EAST side (i.e. the former Communist side) of the Brandenburg Gate. Ted Cruze’s Subtext: “Obama is a Communist.” That’s the 21st Century voice of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

FOX and the Scapegoat Mechanism

Today’s post on FOX News is inspired by Rene Girard’s “Mimetic” theory and an Aesop’s fable. First the fable.

THE FOX AND THE CROW

A Fox (read FOX) saw a Crow (the American people) fly off with a piece of cheese (real information) in its beak and settle on a branch in a tree.

“That’s for me, as I am a Fox,” said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.

“Good day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds (parties, races, countries), just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of all Birds.”

The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth, the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox.

“That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese, I will give you a piece of advice for the future: ‘Do not trust flatterers.'”

THE SCAPEGOAT MECHANISM AND SOCIAL CONTROL

Rene Girard’s theory of “mimetic” desire, mimetic rivalry, and the scapegoat mechanism explains the secret of the appeal and success of FOX News. The Fox takes the cheese it extols by flattering its viewers as the true patriots, the lovers of goodness and truth.

FOX News is the 21st Century voice of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). Joe McCarthy and what came to be known as “McCarthyism” scared the American public in a search for neighbors who might be closeted communists or communist sympathizers until news anchor Edward R. Murrow ended McCarthy’s witch-hunt with a single newscast.

As in that sordid history of the Salem Witch Trials in which the Puritans were summoned by their magistrates and clergy to rid themselves of evil (see Kai Erickson’s The Wayward Puritans: a Study in the Sociology of Deviance), McCarthy’s hunt was a convention of social control to maintain the old fraying religious, political, cultural consensus. FOX resurrects those shameful chapters of the American experience.

There is no quicker way to rally people than to create a scapegoat (a shared enemy, the embodiment of evil). All it takes is a FOX to flatter the “Queen of all Birds” into dropping the Cheese.

“Get off my corner!”

Sen Joe McCarthy purging America of disbelieversGordon C. Stewart (copyright)

I’m sitting calmly in my office when the phone rings. It’s a parishioner who lives near the downtown post office. “I don’t know what’s happening,” she says, “but there’s some kind of ruckus on the corner. There’s some kind of booth on the corner.”

I drive to the Post Office. I park the car half a block away and see a large booth on the street corner. The woman handing out literature is yelling at a man who’s crossing the street, and he’s yelling back. I can’t hear what they’re saying until I draw closer.  A man crossing the street to get away from the booth is shouting over his shoulder. “You’re not only anti-Semitic! You’re anti-American!”

The booth features an eight-foot tall photograph of the President of the United States. But this is no ordinary photograph. There’s a mustache imposed on President Obama’s picture, the mustache of Adolf Hitler and a call for his impeachment, “Du mp Obama!”

I approach the booth.  “Just another Jew,” says the woman.

“What’s happening?” I ask.

She slides a flyer toward me across the counter. “Read it,” she says. I put my finger on the mustache. “You don’t want to hear what we have to say. You’re a spy!” she says as she steps backward, tilts her head in the air, and bellows out “O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain, For purple mountain majesty, Above the fruited plain. America!  America! God shed His grace on thee….” But before she sings the last line of the stanza – “and crown thy good with brotherhood… – she stops and orders me off her corner. “Get off my corner!”

She is carrying the message of Lyndon LaRouche, a perpetual candidate for President whose only consistency over a long checkered history of ideological swings on the political spectrum is the red-hot lava of righteous rage.

The behavior of the woman at the Post Office, like that of the Florida pastor whose threat to burn Qur’ans nearly set the world on fire several years ago, is bizarre. But the rage she expresses is not unique to her. Because it is so outrageous, it shines a light into the darkness of the widespread incivility of our time, an incivility that erupts from a core conviction hidden below the surface of our consciousness.

We’re street brawling over what kind of America we will be, and “Can’t we all just get along”- the plea of Rodney King as he witnessed the Los Angeles riots following the “innocent” verdict  exonerating the police officers whose beatings of him had been aired repeatedly on national television– is long forgotten. We’re dividing ourselves into true believers and heretics, patriots and traitors, suspicious of each other all the way to the White House.

This is not new. This volcano of anger erupted in the trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637), banished by the court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a woman not fit for our society” who, when banished, went on to co-found the State of Rhode Island. It erupted in the execution of Mary Dyer, a Quaker hanged for heresy in 1670, and in the Salem Witch Trials. The horrors of powerful religious dogmatism led the Founders of the new American republic to write into the constitution that there would be no established religion. The American republic would a secular republic with freedom of religious expression. It would not be a theocracy.

As the new nation was being conceived, demagoguery often replaced politics, i.e. the art of compromise, as it often does now.  One does not compromise with the enemy. One eliminates him.   Rodney King’s plea is regarded as the way of the ill-informed, cowards, heretics, and Anti-Americans.

The lava of anger originates from a hidden, unexamined conviction that the United States is the chosen people, the messianic people whose job is to eliminate evil within and without in the war of good against evil. It is an idea born of the rape of the Judeo-Christian tradition by nationalism which installs America as the exception to history, the nation divinely ordained to banish Anne Hutchinson in 1637, hang Mary Dyer in 1670, and destroy the reputations of decent people as un-American in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s purge of secret communists in the early 1950s. It’s the belief that America is the exception…and that the real America is only some of us, the righteous believers.

In the unspoken consciousness of our collective memory, “You are the light of the world” becomes the declaration of fact spoken about America, not an itinerant preacher’s call to a small band of first-century disciples to persist in the hard politics of love and peace in a time of hate and violence. The ensuing lines from the primary text, The Sermon on the Mount – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ but I say to you, love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you” – are forgotten, ignored, torn out, blacked out or burned on the altar of messianic nationalism.

Even more ironic is that those who attack others, including a sitting president, as un-American – i.e. heretics  who do not bow to the idea of America as the collective messiah  of history– scream against government and taxes as enemies, socialist intrusions on their individual freedom to hoard what is theirs.  The biblical city is no longer a community of sharing of the wealth and care for the least; it becomes a sandbox of greed and competition where the highest value is my freedom to get and keep what is mine.

The irony is that in the minds and hearts of those who have been raped, “America the beautiful…God shed his grace on thee…” is not a statement of aspiration but of fact.  And the prayer “God mend thine every flaw” –  the flaws of selfishness and greed, our meanness to each other, our name calling and stereotyping, our entrenched partisanship, our collective global nationalist arrogance – become a distant memory of a censored sentiment. In times like these when ugliness replaces beauty, America
the Beautiful is, as it always has been, a courageous aspiration and prayer for sanity and the ancient wisdom of the Letter of James that calls us all to engage each other and the world of nations differently: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

The American Dream on the Ropes

Gordon C. Stewart | MinnPost.com, Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” The homeland I mourn is the world I once thought I knew. It was far from a perfect world, by any measure, but its ideals seemed intact. There was set of shared expectations of fairness, some measure of equality, the vision of a more just and peaceful world freed from poverty, oppression and war.

Today that world is as much of a memory as my boyhood home. Something has died. The American dream is rising in Egypt, in Tunisia, and across the Arab world, but it is on the ropes here in America. The cry for democracy, basic human rights, and an end to Mubarak’s self-serving economy has its echo in Madison, Wis., where workers have stood tall for the right of collective bargaining. But not tall enough to stop the turning back of the clock. Nor are they bold enough to strike, as unions would have in my youth.

All across America the hard-earned gains of the labor movement are being painted as evil, yet not a single person on Wall Street has gone to jail for the fraudulent, greedy schemes that brought the American economy to its knees in September-October, 2008. Not one. The idea of democratic rule — the rule of ordinary, hard-working people — has been high-jacked by a ruling class that has no shame while it takes home most of the cookies. It pays little or no taxes, cries foul about spending, raids the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for its wars, blames the deficit on liberal social programs, and leaves the crumbs from its budget-cutting for the rest of us to fight over.

The Soviet Union was feared

My generation’s formative years during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations had us ducking under our school desks in preparation for a nuclear bomb that was sure to drop on my little town outside of Philadelphia. The U.S.S.R. was the enemy and was out to get us. “Getting us” would mean, we thought, an end to democracy, an end to freedom.

Never did it occur to us that the end of democracy and freedom would come from what President Dwight Eisenhower later warned of: the American military-industrial complex that would usurp the people’s right to rule themselves. Never would it have occurred to us that a U.S. Supreme Court would rule that corporations are “persons” when it comes to the electoral process — people just like us free to spend the money none of the rest of us “persons” has to buy an election.

Sunday mornings after church I remember turning on the religious show that featured Oral Roberts ranting and raving and waving and “healing” his bizarre church in Oklahoma City — thinking that this must be some kind of joke. What was bizarre then has become mainstream today. Michele Bachmann, whose law degree comes from Oral Roberts University Bible-based O.W. Coburn School of Law (now defunct) and Sarah Palin, whose church makes Oral Roberts look temperate, would have been laughed off the stage when I was a kid. Today they own the stage, and their Annie Oakley, winner-take-all politics and economics set the agenda — not only in Minnesota and Alaska, but in Wisconsin and in Washington, D.C. Patriotism has become a white fundamentalist Christian packing a semi-automatic on the lookout for the same people Sen. Joseph McCarthy hunted down in the early ’50s.

I remember Joe McCarthy. I didn’t like him then. I don’t like him now. And I don’t like those who imitate him wearing lipstick on their beauty-queen faces and have the gall to call the president of the United States “un-American.”  We no longer need a House Un-American Activities Committee to conduct our witch hunts. The verdicts are rendered ad hoc by demagogic politicians with law degrees from a law school founded by Oral Roberts that lasted only seven years before closing its doors.

Americans want ‘real’ people as leaders

Who needs Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan or Notre Dame?  We want our elected leaders to be “real” people untainted by elitist educations. And we want them to tell us that “taxes” — the word that once upon a time stood for my share of personal responsibility for America’s infrastructures, values, financial security and national defense — are greedy government conspiracies to rob our us of what is rightfully ours.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child a long way from home,” sang the African-American slaves picking cotton out in the fields. Some who sang the songs were children who had been separated from their mothers and families as prize chattel on the slave blocks. Others sang it mourning their African homeland. Sometimes “home” stood for heavenly release from the terror of the plantation. The mournful tones from the cotton fields echoed off the walls of the plantation owners’ mansions. The owners considered their work force part of their plantation American Way of Life, while the enslaved workers sang of a different homeland right under their masters’ noses.

I have not been stolen away. But the sense of grief, anger and sadness could not be more real. My mother has died. My country has been stolen. “Come, my brother, come my sister, a long way from home.”

Deadly Political Rhetoric

When Political Rhetoric Brings Out the Worst in Us

by Gordon C. Stewart, March 29, 2010

Click the title for full commentary published by Minnesota Public Radio) Here are some Excerpts (Opening and closing paragraphs):

Our nation is being poisoned by inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle. How else does one explain the sending of a used condom to a Minnesota congresswoman, or the phone message left on  Rep. Keith Ellison’s answering machine: “Timothy McVeigh said dead government workers are good government workers.  Goodbye, Sambo”? And that’s just here in Minnesota….

 

 Where are the likes of Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welsh now? We need them again.

A Journey of Faith into Economics

 – Gordon C. Stewart Feb. 12, 2012

North Philadelphia street scene

Where I grew up Karl Marx was the enemy of all that was good and true. The United States and the Soviet Union were in a dead heat in the Cold War between the Christian and capitalist West, and the atheistic, Communist East. In elementary school we dove under our desks during air raid drills to prepare us for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Broomall, Pennsylvania, population 1,000. We began the school day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – “one nation under God” – and a prayer that asked for God’s blessing. In World War II our fathers had beaten back the evil of Nazism. Now, evil was threatening once again from fascism’s opposite, godless Communism. It was either us or them.

It took a while before I asked about the coupling of Christian faith and capitalism or read Marx himself. To read him or to entertain the idea of a classless society was heretical treason, or treasonable heresy. Church and nation were two sides of the same thing. But the more I recited the Pledge of Allegiance, went to worship and youth group,  and became acquainted with the poverty of north Philadelphia, I began to realize that “freedom and justice for all” was, at best, an aspiration, not a fact.  At worst, it was a compelling myth that allowed us to think of ourselves as the chosen whose job was to eliminate evil from a fallen world.

Two summers working as a street worker for the Presbytery of Philadelphia in the poorest neighborhoods rattled my world and shook me to my knees. Every Monday through Friday during the summers of 1961 and ’62, I traveled an hour-and-a-half by bus and subway from my suburban home in Broomall to north Philadelphia and back trying to make some sense of these two very different worlds. How and why did they exist – one white; one black? One materially satisfied; one not? Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement were answering that it was because of  the politics and economics of white privilege.

When I read the work of Willem Zuurdeeg, a Dutch philosopher of religion who grew up as part of the underground resistance during World War II, I found the philosophical mind that looked below the surface to the deeper convictions that hold our hearts and minds captive. The rest of the story is too long to tell.

Capitalism, like Communism, is an idol manufactured by the human heart, one of the convictions, often unexamined, that vie for our worship and allegiance. No economic system is now, or ever will be, perfect. Its efficacy and utility are to be judged by what it does to the people who live under its mindset and institutions.  Today, I hear strident voices that sound like the voice of the late Senator Joe McCarthy who turned over the tables looking for America’s internal enemies. I would like it to be said when I am gone that I honored the memories of Edward R. Murrow whose courageous reporting exposed McCarthyism, and of Joseph Walsh, the attorney for the Army who spoke aloud the words that brought an end to the power of the McCarthy Hearings to destroy decent, dissenting American citizens: “Have you no decency, Sir? Have you no decency left?”

Ours is a later time. The issues of our day are complex. But underneath the debates, the “us against them” mindset of World War II and the Cold War is no less alive than it was then. However and wherever McCarthy’s eyes flash while his finger points and his voice rises again, those of us who hear a Deeper Voice must not be silent. The Deeper Voice is the “still small Voice” of conscience and dissent.