Laura Ingraham invoked Stalin to attack David Hogg for launching a boycott of her show. It was truly a Goliath versus David moment, i.e. Laura with the power of Fox News and the entire right-wing noise machine, including the president and his surrogates, versus a very real, Internet-savvy, articulate high schooler named … David. Hollywood’s making plans for this one.
Ingraham’s hyperbole was boosted by some repulsive comments from the likes of the NRA’s own Ted Nugent and Sinclair’s Jamie “Red-Hot Poker” Allman (resigned). And a few days later, in reference to the FBI, which had quite legally and courteously raided Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s premises, Newt Gingrich unmothballed the GESTAPO and Stalin in one breath, a claim that did generate some pushback even in conservative quarters (and in Israel, BTW, see here).
So. Here we go again…. I’ve covered this issue before, but it’s redux time, because the irony of the pundits’ projections is just too much.
Point 1) Hitler and Stalin are old-time favorite to describe very bad people, especially people who do things you don’t like or you may feel have somehow restricted you in your freedom to do and say what you please. In American politics – and to a certain extent in other democratic countries, one could argue – the time it takes to pull the Hitler car is referred to as “Godwin’s Law.” Definition here. No, it doesn’t mention Stalin, but by rights, it should.
Point 2) H&S are favorites for a simple reason: People generally don’t know any others. Why not say: Mao, who was equally monstrous? Or Pol Pot? Or Idi Amin? Or even Suharto? Marcos, Pinochet… Because people would look them up, perhaps, and realize how staggeringly ridiculous it is to refer to that kid as Stalin? Or because Hitler and Stalin have become common adjectives? This demeans the suffering of untold millions at the hands of these two egregious figures.
Imagine Ingraham tweeting “The boycott of my ads was positively Cattaneist…” Her devout viewers would have to search high and low and then read all about the Five Days of Milan, 1848, when Carlo Cattaneo led a tobacco and casino boycott against the Austrian overlords in the city and set off the Risorgimento… (Please look up the details elsewhere).
Point 3) Ingraham and her ilk are not interested in knowledge, of course, maintaining ignorance is the source of their mediatic power. So the irony of the Stalin reference is lost on the nodding Fox audience:
Because there could well be a sinister side to it. In my Trump, wurst, salami post, I noted how the Trump and his administration actually seem to be implementing what are known as Salami Tactics, a term coined by the Hungarian Communist Màtyàs Ràkosi to subvert the embryonic democracy in Hungary after World War Two. Here’s how that went:
Having won only 17% in the 1945 elections, the Communists requested and got leadership of the Ministry of the Interior, while Ràkosi himself became the Vice Premier. Over the next four years, the Communists created a secret police, subverted the justice system, engaged in sustained attacks against any opposition, accusing them of having collaborated with the Nazis, creating fake evidence if necessary, and generally kept the nation divided and frantic. That might sound familiar. The difference was in the state of the economy and the country in general after a devastating war. Massive inflation helped the destabilization process. At any rate, in 1949, the Communists won an overwhelming majority. This was followed some mopping up operations, including a show trial of fellow traveler Laszlo Rajk and a few others to, essentially terrorize any dissenters inside and outside the Party. Note “show trial.”
Stuffing the courts with far right-wing judges is one parallel. Constant attacks on the intelligence community another. But it took a greater organization to maintain the accusations of disloyalty and treason against anyone dissenting, and creating that toxic “Us versus Them” atmo, which is the hallmark of the Trump system in cahoots with the GOP. Imagine: The RNC went out of its way to demonize and calumniate James Comey by means of a dedicated website.
Trump has never stopped campaigning for that reason, and he has a right-wing media apparatus behind him feeding into him and feeding off of him, making money in the process and expanding its base. That is dangerous. Many knowledgeable people are sounding the alarms about the damage being done to democratic institutions and democracy itself. Madeleine Albright being the most recent.
Full Stalinist Now the real punchline. Ingraham conjuring Stalinism, and a few days later Fox actually engaged in what one could only describe as a public show trial in the best Stalinist tradition…. Do they actually understand what they are doing?
I rest my case.
Oh, afterthought: Anyone who thinks David Hogg is Hitlerian or Stalinist needs to go back to the history books, or, if those seem too dry, some novels, like The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, or The partially autobiographical Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Try Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, too, while you are at it… Windrip… sounds almost like a metaphor for the current occupant of the White House.
AT SOME POINT, the Parkland shooting may be seen as the turning point in the struggle to end what can only be termed NRA blackmail of much of the country and its purchase of unquestioning political support from Congressmen and -women. A group of high-schoolers, with the energy and boldness of youth, and the organizational tools of the 21st century, have become the funnel for the frustrations and disgust of millions of Americans at mass shootings. On another level, however, this struggle is again highlighting some of the uglier sides of what passes for discourse in the nation’s politics.
Though the man is really unpleasant in many ways, vulgar and shady — like his spiritus rector and good friend, the late Roy Cohn — I must give Roger Stone his due for a very insightful quote: “It is better to be infamous than never to be famous at all.” It’s his working motto and, of course, the motto of many others who earned spurs and money from the rich and powerful by simply being malevolent. And it is a direct descendant of the famous “There is no negative feedback” idea, which states that any publicity is basically good publicity.
What the impact of Stone and his large ilk is or would be on society at large was and is unimportant to them. They care nothing of values such as compassion, decency, tolerance and generosity. Beauty is to be ignored, gratefulness is a weakness, loyalty lasts only as long as there is something to gain. They are tough in that way, a predatory gang. All that counts is gaining notoriety, and with that, these days, comes power and money.
This is one of the main reasons why American society is so divided. By donning the cloak of infamy, men and women with a total disregard for decency, for civil discourse, have created a society where fake outrage, generally driven by furious invective, lies or bullshit, rules and poisons any discussion. The technique is pernicious and mostly self-interested.
Take Laura Ingraham’s recent tweet about young David Hogg: It was ad hominem, cheap, and geared towards making waves and keeping the Fox tribe angry, focused on a meta-battlefield, and hence happy. No one is disputing Ingraham’s right to say what she wants. Nor can one dispute that she knows what she is doing, because she’s done it before: her “anchor fetuses,” comment, or her “shut up and dribble,” comment come to mind. She blows the dogwhistle in various registers and keys, and it is aimed not only at the “right.” The other goal is infuriating the so-called left, or simply at people who believe strongly that free speech is a right, but comes with obligations if you are in the public eye.
Ingraham herself might argue that the demonstrators were saying some pretty harsh things about the NRA and about those who blindly support gun ownership as a “God-given right” (a ridiculous statement, if I ever heard one, but in tune with the Puritan idea of manifest destiny). On the other hand, the NRA and its henchmen and -women have polluted the debate and made it extremely acrimonious over the past years.*
The NRA’s reaction following mass shootings has inevitably been aggressive towards the victims, the grieving families and friends, and towards those who are getting exasperated at the long financial arm of an organization that apparently makes its money selling weapons. The NRA and its tribe never sought a real dialogue to find a solution to a major social problem, which would have been the proper path. Now they are faced with a reaction powered by decades of anger and frustration at being bullied into silence.
But the weapons controversy is only one of many battlegrounds in yet another fake war which is powered by people with financial interests. Let me repeat that: These wars are driven by people with no real ideology, but rather with financial skin in the game.
The divisive and violent rhetoric is not delivered to further arguments, but rather to deflect attention from the issue and attract attention to the speaker or his or her organization, and hence to make money. A perfect example on this Easter weekend, following the Ingraham Tweet, came a few more nuggets of nonsense, one from Sylvester Stallone’s brother Frank (I didn’t know he had a son), and from chicken-hawk extraordinaire Ted Nugent, who as a representative of the NRA, produced this bucketful of verbal trash:
“The dumbing-down of America is manifested in the culture deprivation of our academia that have taught these kids the lies, media that have prodded and encouraged and provided these kids lies. (…) To attack the good law-abiding families of America when well known predictable murderers commit these horrors is deep in the category of soulless. These poor children, I’m afraid to say this and it hurts me to say this, but the evidence is irrefutable, they have no soul.”
The comment is so incoherent, it’d be a waste of time to try to take it apart. But it, like the Ingraham quote, like the strange hallucinations of so many on Fox News and elsewhere, is an example of what has become a rhetorical business model that is having serious repercussions on democratic processes. It is right up there with the scandalous sale of private data by Facebook, by the way. The rules of this model are simple:
Step one: Drop all your scruples about attacking people from some public megaphone, like Fox News, or Twitter, or wherever…
Step two: Mothball your self-respect, because you are about to turn yourself into a rude, trashy, noisy attention-grabber, and will have to say all sorts of things a decent adult person would avoid. I say adult, because as a part-time teacher of young teenagers, I do have to occasionally confront kids whose aim is to draw attention to themselves by being silly.
Step three: Say it: Say something simply outrageous, something without any basis in reality, but that some that goes against what was considered plain human decency not so long ago. Go against everything that would be within the norm, it’s called “being disruptive” these days and is a marketing ploy.
Step four: Reap the harvest, the accolades from the entire spectrum of your own tribe. AND the furious blowback from those who rightfully think you are being a jackass. Reap in the heat and glow of the spotlight, the “everybody’s talking about you” without worrying whether it’s good or bad. You have gotten your moment in the sun, and you can make it to the next step. A disciple of many financially successful bloviators Tomi Lahren, who began by ranting some very provocative but unsupported stuff on Facebook before being picked up by Fox News, where she continues to embarrass herself by acting like a snarky 13-year-old, lots of opinion and little substance.
Step five: Once the outrage machine has been fired up, you have a few options: First option: the easiest is to let it ride out, never back down. It’s common, because you have the power of the bully pulpit and therefore answering any counterarguments by the author would be a sign of weakness. Besides, your online “surrogates” will be spreading your infamy by their own accord. Fame means never having to say you’re sorry in certain quarters of our political layer.
Second option: Apologize soon after, catching the outraged opposition off guard, but apologize in such a way as to not apologize. This is what Laura Ingraham did after advertisers started pulling their ads from her show.
The third option is the Nugent option: Start complaining about being attacked by those who feel your attack on some fellow expressing an opinion was unjustifiably harsh and vulgar. It encourages your fans, who feel that everyone else is the “snowflake,” and makes sure YOU don’t have to look in the mirror.
By now, it has become almost impossible to break this system, because it is ingrained and financially successful, as long as you have no scruples and no self-respect. David Hogg found the weakness: The advertisers. Boycotts can be very powerful tools, and may be the only ones possible short of imposing constraints on the First Amendment. It even works within the tribe: Erick Erickson, who at first rejected Trump during his candidacy, soon found the fans of his own “conservative” ravings walking away, and then returned to the fold. Here a taste of Erickson’s prose, by the way:
“I assume that Obama’s marxist harpy wife would go Lorena Bobbit on him should he even think about it, but I ask the question to make one simple point: Barack Obama, like Elliott Spitzer, is a creation of the liberal media and, as a result, could be a serial killing transvestite and the media would turn a blind eye.”
Interesting projection: The liberal media were not that friendly towards Obama, but conservative media, including Erickson, quickly lock-stepped behind the predatory, pussy-grabbing, adulterous, haywire Trump. This should give these folks pause for thought.
In the will to power and money, anything goes. Lies become the truth, smears become arguments, and projection onto others becomes the only form of self-reflection allowed. It’s a technique we see literally daily, and the masters of it are squarely in the right-wing camp of the USA, where old-fashioned conservatism has been pushed into the corner. In its place are a generation of people who’ve signed a Faustian contract: Their ethics and self-respect for fame, power and money.
Ingraham’s silly tweet was eminently deconstructible, but in the fast-moving communication of the Internet, and in the pre-masticated opinions of her backslapping audience, arguments pro and con do not matter anymore. What remains is the message and the agitation it generated, the noise, the anger, the spectacle. And Twitter picked it up and magnified the outrage tenfold.
* In 1996, the organization got its fingers into the amendment to a spending bill that stopped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using money to “advocate or promote gun control.” As the Washington Post reported: “The National Rifle Association had pushed for the amendment, after public-health researchers produced a spate of studies suggesting that, for example, having a gun in the house increased risk of homicide and suicide. It deemed the research politically motivated.”
For those who do not like to read much, here’s a short version of a longer lucubration on the topic of online invective as it currently stands… :
What drives an adult mother like Laura Ingraham to write ad hominem tweets against a 17-year-old expressing (articulately) his opinion? What drives an adult representative like Ted Nugent of the NRA to hurl very crude and incoherent invective at the same kid? Their argument might be “They did so first…” which is not an argument.
So let’s continue: Why does Lou Dobbs, of Fox News smile glibly when a guest of his literally paints a target on the Parkland students’ back, saying the students are acting “as if they are bulletproof”? By the same token, what drove an adult father of several kids (four, I think), to call retired SC justice David Souter a “goat fucking child molester”? The latter is Erick Erickson, and he was also the author of the following gem:
“Barack Obama, like Elliott Spitzer, is a creation of the liberal media and, as a result, could be a serial killing transvestite and the media would turn a blind eye.”
The list could fill pages, and you’d be astonished, it is mostly fed by family-values, PTL-ing, “patriotic” so-called conservatives. Their invective is shocking, extreme, and very divisive. And it is meant to be. But it is no longer ideological. Empowered by ratings driven by a critical mass of angry Americans, who can’t stand the inevitable changes* in our society, or who simply hate being told what to do even if it is necessary, these immature, unsavory salvos have become the artillery in the cold civil war dividing the country.
And those uttering them, or the organization and companies backing them, are making lots of money out of it. Just as they are making money out of silly conspiracy theories. It’s turning into blood money of sorts, as the victim may well be democracy itself. Fighting back against it is tough, because the Internet offers them a bully pulpit with an unbelievably wild reach for their investment, and it protects them from having to listen to counterarguments. The only thing that counts is cash. Amazingly, a 17-year-old kid understood that. His slightly snarky suggestion about puling ads was hard. Advertisers do not want to be associated with such shabby people. It’s bad for brands.
*Believe me, I don’t like them at all, but they are there, and we have to learn to live with them. The good ole days are just that, good ole days. Weep and move on.