The Ignoble Experiment
“Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
The job before democracy is to get rid of such canaille. If it fails, they will devour it. ” - H.L. Mencken’s eulogy of William Jennings Bryan.
(By American Zen’s Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
Hardly anyone living remembers that day in Washington, DC in August 1925. In a city that would, ironically, become 90% African American, the Ku Klux Klan pulled their linen off their beds, threw them over their bodies and staged a massive rally in the nation’s Capitol. The only difference between this one and your typical Klan rally is that they did not even bother wearing their hoods.
Part of the reason they were there was to drive up registration. By this time, the Klan already boasted of between 4-6 million members although their membership would plummet like Wile E. Coyote to 30,000 in just five short years. The nation’s racism, sentimentalized and romanticized by DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, was on full, undisguised display, a 40,000 person march through the nation’s Capitol in a vivid delineation of what Republican Herbert Hoover would call “the Noble Experiment.”
Last Saturday, we saw much the same thing, minus the Macy’s White Sale fashion, in the nation’s Capitol. But the hatred of our first African American President was on full display, despite frenzied protestations to the contrary by right wing astroturf sympathizers such as Sen. Jim DeMint, Congresspersons Mike Pence, Phil Gingrey and Marsha Blackburn and disgraced former House majority leader and health racketeer shill Dick Armey. In one fell swoop, we had gone from being the Great Experiment to, once again, the Noble Experiment.
At its shriveled and soured core, deliberative and level-headed observers got the unmistakable impression, just by seeing pictures of the signs dutifully posted by bloggers on both sides of the Great Ideological Divide, that it wasn’t about taxes or tea bagging or any informed dissent to the health care bill. It was racism, plain and simple. It was the ineluctable fact that these protesters, who combined could barely fill Fenway Park, were infuriated that a black man, their symbol of the welfare state that siphons their tax dollars, was telling them what kind of health care they had to have whether they like it or not.
It’s telling that their newest superhero, the closest thing the GOP leadership has to a face besides Rush Limbaugh, is a racist hypocrite who six years ago had voted for health care funds for illegal immigrants and, rather than offering a considerate, well-proportioned rebuttal to the President’s health care initiatives, chose instead to insult and embarrass his president, his party, his Congress and his nation by violating Congressional rules by calling the Chief Executive a liar on international TV.
Small wonder why Glenn Beck was able to successfully and tearfully exhort such a motley crew to Washington, DC through his 9/12 campaign.
The very fact that Glenn Beck is on national television is in itself a crime against Western Civilization and the humanities. Aside from the obvious reasons, that Beck’s febrile imagination sees living Communist conspiracy theories in 1930’s bas reliefs at Rockefeller Center and NBC studios and proudly and profitably calls the President a racist, his enduring popularity and infestation of the airwaves is a tragedy when one considers who his new hero is.
Alexander Zaitchik wrote a revealing essay for Salon.com that draws ineluctable conclusions about Beck’s true impetus for his most delusional ravings. As with Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, it’s been suggested that Beck’s sweaty bloviatings are for publicity purposes only, that no one can possibly be so insane as to actually believe what billows from his pie hole. Yet Air America’s Dan Carter writes, “But after reading Alexander Zaitchik’s revealing article on the book that provides the 'intellectual' underpinnings to Beck’s conspiratorial fantasies, one should consider the disturbing notion that his beliefs are in fact sincere.”
Beck’s impetus for his newly militant position can be traced without any difficulty to a book called The 5000 Year Leap. It was written by a Mormon named Willard Cleon Skousen and who was quite possibly the most insane man who ever lived and still managed to remain one step ahead of butterfly nets. The book had remained out of print for many years until republished by PowerThink Publishing, a smaller version of right wing propaganda mill and hate factory Regnery Press.
Skousen was eventually reviled by even the most arch conservatives of his day, eventually losing the respect and backing of his church and his every corporate sponsor. Hoover’s FBI (which had employed Skousen for 15 years) compiled a file on him that was over 2000 pages long. In another book, he once referred to black children as “pickaninnies” and approvingly quoted a historian who’d written of the slave trade, “[slave] gangs in transit were usually a cheerful lot, though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains.”
Remember, during our lifetimes, this man had been ostracized from polite society, his books justifiably going out of print and his much too long delayed death in 2006 little noted outside of LDS circles of which Beck is now a part.
Yet in three and a half brief years, his biggest acolyte outside of Skousen’s family is enjoying record ratings on national television in spite of losing about 60 sponsors with seeming impunity. Beck’s influence is such that despite his daily conspiracy theories, manic depressive on-air blubbering and literally screaming at guests who phone in to his radio program is able to mobilize even the 30,000 who invaded Washington DC.
That’s troubling, troubling not just in the sense that Beck could get even one person to spend perfectly good money to go to our nation’s Capitol to protest our President for GWB (Not George W. Bush but Governing While Black). It’s even more troubling that a maniac such as Skousen, a man who’d been rightfully thrown out into the cold by even his fellow right wing extremists would pick up an acolyte who is already enjoying more critical and commercial success than he ever did, that Beck’s plagiarized racist views are merging closer and closer to the political mainstream now represented by Joe Wilson.
And we have finally come full circle as a nation, the nation envisioned by DW Griffith, the nation envisioned by the Klan leaders of the mid Twenties who proudly and with similar impunity flaunted their racism on the streets of our seat of federal government. Overton’s Window has not merely shifted from far right to center but has, instead, traveled full circle. If Beck’s views don’t represent the mainstream of right wing thought, the media, led by Beck’s network Fox, seem to be doing its damnedest to present that fiction as fact, which is the basis for a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And one gets the uneasy sense that when Beck's time comes, he will be given much more humane treatment than William Jennings Bryan got from H. L. Mencken or that Skousen got from his own country in general.