Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Where does it all start?

Because the media not only does a poor job of exposing the sources of incivility in this country—but provides its purveyors a platform in which to infect the political and social environment with their bigotry and intolerance—people tend to have the attitude “it is what it is,” as if that is the way things should be. Reactionary politicians with nothing useful to say—Republican Sen. Marco Rubio a recent example with his nonsensical and purely partisan opposition to resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, when we have one with China—only produces confusion and discord to no purpose.  

But there is a “purpose” to the madness, and that is to maintain a climate where “enemies” appear everywhere and are accused of having sinister designs against the state—or rather, against a particular worldview that asserts that government only exists to maintain an environment where the richest corporations and citizens benefit, to act without scruple, and spend tax money only for the “security” of their own interests, and buying votes to insert their puppets onto Congressional seats. But being a tiny minority of the population, a sizable chunk of ill-informed voters have to “bought”—through crass, mindless disinformation—to sow paranoia, fear and animosity against anyone who espouses government for, not against, the people; as one might expect, this agenda is hidden behind such catch phrases as “national security,” “socialism,” “communism” and “terrorism.” 

This kind of hate propaganda war is certainly nothing “new.” In this country it has been around since its founding, just called by different names. But accusations of being “red” began in earnest during FDR’s administration, and these accusations have always been accompanied by opposition to “integration,” civil rights or equal opportunity. The Obama administration has been the target of unprecedented hostility, obstruction and paranoia; the fact that we have not been given that “impression” is solely because of the unprecedented ethical lapses of the “mainstream” media—probably because of its failure to police its own “contribution” to this environment. 

And it may be even worse than it ever was, given its reach and scope. Last year in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a book entitled Dallas 1963, written by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, documented the climate of hatred and paranoia in the city against JFK. This climate was orchestrated by people like far-right Dallas Morning News publisher Ted Dealey, racist Baptist preacher William Criswell, billionaire H.L. Hunt, who gave away suitcases full of cash to extremist purveyors of hate, Congressman Bill Alger who had the indecency to lead a mob of right-wing women in an attack on Lady Bird Johnson in the street—and perhaps worst of all, General Edwin Walker, who led an “army” of hate fanatics who were capable of anything, including a physical assault on former governor of Illinois and then UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson during a visit to Dallas four weeks before the assassination. After being struck and spit on by the Dallas mob, Stevenson was prompted to wonder aloud “Are these human beings or are these animals?” Such was the extreme vitriol of Walker’s activities and rhetoric, that one of his compatriots was dreading the thought that “one of his boys” might have been involved in the assassination. 

How can we say that the crowd of fur-coated women being led on by Alger shouting “traitor,” and “socialist” to Lyndon Johnson, and swinging a sign that nearly struck his wife in the face, and the Walker-inspired mob that attacked Stevenson are any different than the far-right lunatics and Tea Partiers led on by nutjobs like Sarah Palin, shouting “kill him”—meaning Barack Obama—at a 2008 campaign rally? Hunt poured millions into right-wing hate coffers, and was the author of a screed that demanded that the wealthy should have “extra” votes, and that any discussion of public issues be prohibited on television or radio, for fear of “inciting” the masses; at the time, right-wing hate talk radio was not the boondoggle it is today, but as is today, money talks—and even more so now since the Citizens United decision. 

Criswell and Dealey opined that JFK was unfit to be president, because he would be beholden to the Pope rather than the people because of his Catholic faith. “In the opinion of the (Dallas Morning) News, such a man ought not to be in the White House…The President of the United States should be man who can be trusted to fear God and honor his oath of office, no matter what all the bishops in the hierarchy may presume to order.” Didn’t we hear a variation of this in the accusations that Obama was a “Muslim”? Dealey even had the arrogance to tell JFK to his face during a White House meeting with newspaper publishers “The general opinion of the grassroots thinking in this country is that you and your administration are weak sisters. We need a man on horseback to lead this nation, and many people in Texas and the Southwest think that you are riding Caroline’s tricycle.” 

There were those, of course who were supportive of the president, like Neiman-Marcus owner Stanley Marcus, who was embarrassed by the rhetoric coming out of these people and the Neanderthal image it portrayed Dallas—yet on the other hand he had almost a denying Peter complex when it came to his support of moderate to liberal policies. Sometimes the actions of hate fanatics did backfire dramatically—no more so than the attack on LBJ and his wife, the sight of which embarrassed enough Texas voters to persuade some of them to switch their votes against Nixon to allow Kennedy a narrow victory in the state in the 1960 election; even Nixon admitted that his loss in Texas was “because of that asshole congressman,” Alger. And there were obviously many average citizens who supported JFK, as evidenced by the apparently adoring crowds that greeted him on that fateful day. But white city leaders like Marcus were few and far between, and those who were moderate to left in their opinions always had to be on their guard against reprisal from the far-right. 

After the assault on Stevenson, the Dallas Morning News, in an editorial mendaciously headlined “Our Apologies,” offered this hope for a future event: “The President of the United States will be here in November. We trust he will be welcomed and accorded the respect and dignity that go with the office he represents.” But Dealey and his newspaper did not head its own warning, agreeing to publish the following political advertisement on the very morning of the assassination, paid for by one of the many far-right organizations in the city:


 . . .A CITY so disgraced by a recent Liberal smear attempt that its citizens have just elected two more Conservative Americans to public office.

 . . .A CITY that is an economic "boom town," not because of Federal handouts, but through conservative economic and business practices.

 . . .A CITY that will continue to grow and prosper despite efforts by you and your administration to penalize it for its non-conformity to New Frontierism.

 . . .A CITY that rejected your philosophy and policies in 1960 and will do so again in 1964--even more emphatically than before.

 MR. KENNEDY, despite contentions on the part of your administration, the State Department, the Mayor of Dallas, the Dallas City Council, and members of your party, we free-thinking and America-thinking citizens of Dallas still have, through a Constitution largely ignored by you, the right to address our grievances, to question you, to disagree with you, and to criticize you.

 In asserting this constitutional right, we wish to ask you publicly the following questions--indeed, questions of paramount importance and interest to all free peoples everywhere--which we trust you will answer. . .in public, without sophistry.

These questions are:

WHY is Latin America turning either anti-American or Communistic, or both, despite increased U. S. foreign aid, State Department policy, and your own Ivy-Tower pronouncements?

WHY do you say we have built a "wall of freedom" around Cuba when there is no freedom in Cuba today? Because of your policy, thousands of Cubans have been imprisoned, are starving and being persecuted--with thousands already murdered and thousands more awaiting execution and, in addition, the entire population of almost 7,000,000 Cubans are living in slavery.

WHY have you approved the sale of wheat and corn to our enemies when you know the Communist soldiers "travel on their stomachs" just as ours do? Communist soldiers are daily wounding and or killing American soldiers in South Viet Nam.

WHY did you host and entertain Tito--Moscow's Trojan Horse--just a short time after our sworn enemy, Khrushchev, embraced the Yugoslav dictator as a great hero and leader of Communism?

WHY have you urged greater aid, comfort, recognition, and understanding for Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, and other Communists countries, while turning your back on the pleas of Hungarian, East German, Cuban and other anti-Communists freedom fighters?

WHY did Cambodia kick the U.S. out of its country after we poured nearly 400 Million Dollars of aid into its ultra-leftist government?

WHY has Gus Hall, head of the U.S. Communist Party praised almost every one of your policies and announced that the party will endorse and support your re-election in 1964?

WHY have you banned the showing at U.S. military bases of the film "Operation Abolition"--the movie by the House Committee on Un-American Activities exposing Communism in America?

WHY have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America, while permitting him to persecute loyal Americans who criticize you, your administration, and your leadership?

WHY are you in favor of the U.S. continuing to give economic aid to Argentina, in spite of the fact that Argentina has just seized almost 400 Million Dollars of American private property?

WHY has the Foreign Policy of the United States degenerated to the point that the C.I.A. is arranging coups and having staunch Anti-Communists Allies of the U.S. bloodily exterminated.

WHY have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the "Spirit of Moscow"?

MR. KENNEDY, as citizens of the United States of America, we DEMAND answers to these questions, and we want them NOW.

Note that the president is not even worthy of the dignity of his title. We must remember that this outrageous example of journalistic irresponsibility came after the Cuban missile crisis, when Kennedy faced down Khrushchev and forced the Russians to remove nuclear missiles from the island, and the initial steps into Vietnam. In order to get its “point” across, barefaced lies were utilized; the “persecution” of “loyal citizens” being referred to are in regard to opponents of integration and civil rights. All of the charges made in the “advertisement” were virtually all without the slightest justification; there were simply the work of paranoid extremists for a whites-only country, that viewed any white man who thought otherwise was a “communist,” “socialist” and “traitor” to that cause.

The infamous “Wanted for Treason” flier that appeared at that time was actually only slightly more vindictive, adding “anti-Christian” and “pro-race riots” shibboleths. It also ended with the kind of kind nonsense rhetoric we’ve heard in more recent times, particularly from the so-called “birthers”: “He has been caught in fantastic LIES to the American people (including personal ones like his previous marriage and divorce).” In fact, this was based on a mistaken entry in a genealogy book; the “wife” named in the volume. Durie Malcolm, admitted to having two dates with JFK, but no marriage.

Dealey, publisher and chairman of the board of the Dallas Morning News as responsible as anyone for the atmosphere of hate, obliged editorial writers to say “It cannot be charged with fairness that an entire city is in national disgrace.”

Criswell claimed that left-wing extremists killed Kennedy, and in the Davis book, Walker  “Knows exactly what has happened in Dallas. The assassination was a plot against the super-patriots, a way to besmirch, exile and blame them. The assassination, in a way, might finally validate him—and prove the truth to those people claiming that he is a mad paranoiac.”

But telegrams sent to Dallas Mayor Earle Cabelle were evidence that not everyone felt the way many Texans did:

“Three years ago you assaulted Senator Johnson. Last month, you spit on and broke a sign over the head of Governor Stevenson. And today, you’ve killed our president…What kind of people are you?...You can take your stinking city and your stinking state and secede from the union…”

“Dallas, the city that spawns the lunatic fringe of the far right. Dallas, the City of Hate.”

Thus after the assassination, Dallas was dubbed the “City of Hate.” Have things changed? Maybe yes, maybe no.  Davis wrote in an op-ed after the publication of his book that  “To the lasting shame of Dallas, the people who whipped up this anti-Kennedy hatred were not fringe groups on the margins of society. Instead, they were Dallas’s leading citizens…And now, fifty years later, Bill Minutaglio and I have returned to that time and place, to examine the conditions in Dallas that led many people to warn JFK to avoid the city on his trip to Texas…Dallas has transcended its racist past and has elected an African American mayor, who enjoyed support from both the business community and progressive activists. Dallas is the best-run city in Texas, the only place in the state to have invested early and wisely in mass transit. It is home to a multiplicity of ethnic groups who seem to exist in relative harmony.

“Yet as our publication date neared, these visions of goodwill from Dallas’s entrenched establishment began to dissipate. D Magazine suddenly cancelled its planned excerpt. The Dallas Morning News published a caustic review of our book, easily the most negative reaction we’ve experienced. We also learned that the city’s grand 50th anniversary remembrance of JFK, which would include several authors, somehow managed to exclude us.”

Things changed when “alternative” media showed that there was “a real hunger for the story told in our book. Suddenly, we were on a roll, and the tide began to turn…We can see now that Dallas retains vestiges of its old guard. But the city is no longer tightly controlled by a small group of people. It is increasingly dominated by younger, more diverse, more forward-looking citizens. These Dallasites are not ashamed of their city’s history. Instead they are anxious to learn more about it. Because they understand the essential lesson of history: by learning from the past we prepare for the future.”

I might say good riddance to bad rubbish if they want to leave, but the problem isn’t really what is happening in Dallas today, but in Austin and in the rural parts of the state, where racial and class lines are not in any way “blurred” fifty years after civil and voting rights laws were passed. Today, the state still wants to reinvent the past, by rewriting history, government and social studies textbooks favorable to far-right, “Christian” myths,  and continuing to pass voter suppression laws to disenfranchise minorities in order to maintain white supremacy, right-wing style. One should not forget that Texas was a Confederate slave state—and intended as such by the Southern slave owners who orchestrated its “freedom” from Mexico, where slavery was illegal. 

What kind of people are you?...You can take your stinking city and your stinking state and secede from the union…The constant dissemination of hate hasn’t ended—it has just become more diffuse. The far-right lunatics still run the asylum in Texas and in other like-minded states. I’m sure Texas can live without the billions in federal dollars it receives every month.

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