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The American Zeitgeist



Tony Schwartz, the guy who ghost-wrote Trump's first book, Art of the Deal, sent out the above tweet last night... and just as I was reading a new survey from the Pew Research Center, How Americans Navigated the News in 2020: A Tumultuous Year in Review. I want to get into some of the findings but first I want to say that-- at least in my mind-- there was a fatal flaw. The pruprose of part of the survey was to examine the sources of news for Democrats and for Republicans. About a quarter of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats got their news from an ideological bubble. Republicans got their news from Fox and Hate Talk Radio and Democrats from MSNBC and CNN. Ummmm... even if you can allow MSNBC to be called part of a leftist ideological bubble, how can you possibly define CNN that way? Isn't CNN straight down the middle?

In any case, the fatally flawed survey identified those Americans "who got political news only from sources with like-minded audiences in at least two of the three surveys (e.g., Republicans who only used sources with right-leaning audiences and Democrats who only used sources with left-leaning audiences in at least two surveys). Overall, 24% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents consistently turned only to sources with right-leaning audiences in at least two of three Pathways surveys, and 25% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents chose only outlets with left-leaning audiences in at least two of the three surveys. Another 48% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans used sources with audiences that are politically mixed (e.g., the ABC, CBS or NBC TV networks)..."


Pew concludes that's why Americans have such diametrically opposing views on the election, the pandemic, etc. The survey is long, filled with data and somewhat interesting, if not exactly earth-shattering. But it's worth keeping in mind when reading an essay that Umair Haque published over the weekend at Eudaimonia, America is Already Forgetting About Fascism-- And It’s Going to Pay a Steep Price.



I don't know if Haque is a Green Day fan at all but he began by pointing out that "The American Idiot is by now a legendary figure on the world stage." How stupid are Americans? Really-- how stupid? Incredibly stupid beyond belief? He noted that Brits may be as dumb, having decided to destroy their own economy with Brexit. Americans, he insists have minuscule attention spans-- "at a scale of a barely sentient being."

He paints our poor battered country as a place where no has much memory "Nothing matters except right now. That’s also, by the way, what we’d say of a dementia patient. You need a memory, a sense of history, to make sense of the world around you, to assign things meaning. You can’t simply forget what happened yesterday every single day and hope to function in any sane or reasonable or thoughtful way. If America’s a totally dysfunctional society, it’s in large part because it’s miniscule 24 hour attention span also means it can’t function as a mature, developed society.


I bring this up for a very simple reason. It seems to me that America’s forgetting all over again. But this time, we’re not talking about forgetting some kind of minor league scandal. We’re talking about fascism.
It was just a handful of days ago that Trump was acquitted by the Senate. Less than a handful of weeks-- literally less than ten-- since an armed “riot” stormed Congress, sending what seemed like death squads seeking to massacre their “enemies,” in an attempt to overturn a democratic election. It’s barely been days. And yet it seems to me that America’s already busy forgetting.
Forgetting the way America does. Desperately. Deliberately. Willfully. Not naturally or gracefully or thoughtfully, which is to say slowly, integrating a traumatic period into a larger sense of self. But the way that drug addicts try to forget, self-medicating to numb the pain of their hurt. That’s the way America’s forgetting.
What evidence do I have? Societies have moods, atmospheres, moments. The Germans would call it the zeitgeist. Times that exist as feelings, culturally and socially. For these kinds of things, “evidence,” the way that Americans think of it, is often hazy-- and so this way of thinking doesn’t really make inroads in America, which leaves America emotionally stunted, but that’s another story.


Still, I think if you’re willing to admit that societies have moods, moments, atmospheres in time-- then right now, America’s in one of its great historical periods of forgetting, and the evidence is abundant. Think of any real reflection on what the last four or five years of American history mean. See it anywhere?
By that, I mean hard questions-- genuinely tough ones. Like: Are we teetering on the edge of serious collapse? What does it mean that tens of millions of Americans are willing to back a man who puts kids in cages and camps? Are these people radicalised now at the same level as the Taliban or ISIS? Don’t they believe in a) extreme violence to b) bring about a society of the pure which c) is grounded in religious law? Isn’t all that fascism? Are the Biden years just a short grace period from all this-- which, if Biden and Harris aren’t compelled to get it exactly right, will simply pave the way for a resurgence of fascism in America, only harder?
I don’t see many people asking those questions. Certainly not figures in mainstream media. I see them shying away from such questions, and mostly pretending that everything is going back to normal, if it isn’t already back to normal.
Nothing is back to normal.

The "good old days" Limbaugh and his ilk talked about ad nauseam

Consider the following fact. Trump’s support amongst Republicans increased-- significantly-- after the attempted coup. After armed extremists stormed Congress, left five people dead, possibly led to two more committing suicide, organized themselves in death squads that seemed to be looking to massacre politicians, and stop the vote count. Trump’s support has gone up after seeming to inciting a hard coup.
So let me say it again. Nothing is back to normal. On the right, sentiments and attitudes are hardening. Violence has been legitimised on a mass social scale. Extremists beliefs have been completely normalised. The idea that democracy can and should be replaced by an authoritarian rule just because you don’t like the results is now a casual everyday reality.
That’s a far, far cry from even the relatively extreme attitudes conservative America held during, say, the Bush or Reagan years. Conservative Americans then didn’t back violence in their own country (well, at least against white people). They didn’t support the violent overthrow of democracy. They hadn’t gone all in on theocracy and authoritarianism as means to the ends of outright fascism, an ethnically cleansed homeland.
...There are obvious reasons why America’s attention span is nonexistent. The 24 hours news cycle, which is a disgrace, and doesn’t allow any issue to have the prolonged attention necessary for real social understanding, the time and room for genuine knowledge and truth to really spread and be absorbed. The culture of escapism that exists in America-- “Hey, why are you reading books? Are you a dummy! Go learn how to shoot a gun or make some money!!” The social values of individualism and materialism, in which there’s no reward whatsoever for being a decent human being or an enlightened citizen, just social punishments, which also means, in America, at least, that “total assh*les rise to the top of everything imaginable, from media to politics to culture.”


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