Monday, May 7, 2012

History Repeating

There's a saying among environmentalists that every success is temporary but every defeat is permanent. And surveying the news lately, I wonder if the all of the victories of the Progressive Movement over the last century or so are about to be rolled back. In fact, it even seems like we're moving a time before the Enlightenment in this country. It seems like the default setting for America is to be racially divided, ignorant, religiously fundamentalist plutocracy ruled by sociopaths. We think we turned it around, but all of the most notorious periods in our history are coming back all at once, and with considerable popular support! It seems like the ugly sides of America never went away, they just went underground for a while, biding their time. They're ingrained into our very DNA, as Morris Berman asserts. And now they're back with a vengeance. Consider:

Sixty-two years after McCarthyism:
WASHINGTON -- If you believe Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), there are upwards of 78 to 81 members of the Communist Party sitting in Congress within the Democratic Party, an accusation that riled his colleagues.

During a town hall event in Jensen Beach, Fla., on Tuesday night, West addressed a member of the audience who asked how many members of the Democratic Party were “card-carrying Marxist socialists,” and made a bold claim about his fellow lawmakers in the Capitol.
GOP congressman claims Democrats are communists (LA Times).

Fifty-four years after the civil rights movement:
Another example of just how ugly the national mood has become even when the Pretty Hate Machine is not deliberately inflaming passions came just last week during the Stanley Cup playoffs after the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins in dramatic fashion.  What should have been a great sports story to help momentarily take people's minds off of their problems was instead marred by the reaction of a large number of fans to the fact that the winning goal was scored by Joel Ward, one of the few black athletes playing in the National Hockey League.  Ward's winning shot set off of a flurry of racist Twitter messages among angry Bruins fans, including dozens that actually used the n-word to describe him.  Reading through the collected list of racist tweets made my blood run cold, so virulent was the raw hatred on display.  It was almost like being transported back in time to 1960s Alabama.
Pretty Hate Machine (Bill Hicks, Painted Fire)
Georgia Bar owner Patrick Lanzo says he isn't a racist, he just chooses to use incredibly racist terms in road signs to make a political point.

According to the Huffington Post, Lanzo has caught the attention of many Georgia residents with an offensive roadside sign he has put up by his bar.

The sign reads: "I do not support the n****** in the White House."

Already, Lanzo has drawn outrage from the community but defended himself by saying the wording was not meant to be racist.

This isn't the first time Lanzo has put up an offensive message on his road sign. In 2009, he posted a sign that read: "Obama's plan for health-care: n***** rig it." Back then, he also claimed the posting wasn't racist. It should be noted that Lanzo calls his establishment as a "Klan Bar."
Georgia Bar Owner Calls Obama The N-Word On A Road Sign AGAIN And Still Claims He Isn't Racist (Business Insider)

Eighty-seven years after the Scopes Money Trial:
(Reuters) - A new Tennessee law protects teachers who explore the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of evolution and climate change, a move science education advocates say could make it easier for creationism and global warming denial to enter U.S. classrooms.

The measure, which became law Tuesday, made Tennessee the second state, after Louisiana, to enable teachers to more easily teach alternative theories to the widely accepted scientific concepts of evolution and human-caused climate change. At least five other states considered similar legislation this year.

The heart of the law is protection for teachers who "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

Science education advocates say this leaves latitude for teachers to bring in material on creationism or climate change denial, which they consider unsound science.

The law was billed as a triumph of academic freedom by proponents of creationism or intelligent design, who reject the concept that human beings and other life forms evolved through random mutation and natural selection.

The Tennessee measure "protects teachers when they promote critical thinking and objective discussion about controversial science issues such as biological evolution, climate change and human cloning," said a statement from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design.
Tennessee teacher law could boost creationism, climate denial (Chicago Tribune)

And of course, we're clearly back to the Gilded Age:
Last month, Rick Santorum announced that he likes inequality. “There is income inequality in America,” he told the Detroit Economic Club in a much-quoted speech. “There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.”

Many political observers have since ridiculed this stance, declaring Santorum “unhinged,” or at least unfit to conduct a serious presidential campaign. But the positive defense of inequality is not entirely new in American politics. From the moment that social reformers began to “discover” poverty in the 19th century, naysayers were on hand to explain why extremes of wealth and poverty made for a just society. By embracing inequality, Santorum is reviving the politics of our last Gilded Age.

One of the earliest (and most acerbic) champions of inequality was William Graham Sumner, a Yale sociologist and one of the best-known public intellectuals of the late 19th century. Sumner started his career as an Episcopal priest, tending to the pastoral needs of a New Jersey flock. Within a few years, however, he concluded that his temperament—famously standoffish and blunt—was better suited to scholarly endeavors. As a professor, he helped to pioneer the new discipline of sociology, coining such lasting terms as ethnocentrism and folkways in his studies of American culture. He also made a name for himself as a staunch anti-imperialist and principled opponent of the Spanish-American War.

But it was in the realm of economic philosophy that Sumner carved out his most controversial and lasting influence. In 1883, he composed a short book-length essay titled “What Social Classes Owe to Each Other.” His answer? Absolutely nothing.
Meet the man who invented the GOP’s defense of the wealthy—in 1883. (Slate)

It seems we're just returning to true. Is there any hope at all for this country?

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