After 30 years of dominance on the AM radio dial, conservative talk shows are starting to wane in popularity as their main audience of older white people who live mostly in suburbs and rural communities dwindles as a share of the entire United States population. That is not to say AM radio will make great strides in improving its programming, since so far the slack appears to be taken up by sports talk programs. The demographic groups who enjoy getting their hatred and resentment stirred up by radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh are diminishing in number, and eventually the radio dollars will turn away from them altogether, and that does represent an improvement.
When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removed the Fairness Doctrine policy in 1987, they cleared the way for opinionated talk radio programs such as Limbaugh’s to flourish. The question is – why didn’t liberal talk radio programs gain equal popularity when the rules changed? After all, by numbers alone Democrats are in the majority in this country. The answer lies in two areas relating to the differing mindsets of conservatives and liberals and their uses of media.
A World War II poster from the Office of War Information. Today’s wording might suggest you are free to listen to the one side of a question confirming your opinion.
The conservative mindset is typically authoritarian and believes in black and white answers to social and political problems, whereas liberals are more likely to see shades of gray. A conservative tunes into a talk radio program with his or her mind already made up in most cases, and is looking merely for reaffirmation from the host, who has proved over the years to be more than willing to oblige, often with a helping of a vituperate diatribe against liberals as a bonus. A liberal is less likely to be persuaded by the simple answers a single radio host can provide in an hour or two.
In an appearance on the PBS program Austin City Limits aired in 1987, Fats Domino and his band perform “I Hear You Knockin'”.
The other answer to the 30 years of dominance by conservative talk radio lies in the demographics of the daytime radio audience. Who listens to the radio during the day? Truck drivers, construction workers, suburban and rural commuters in their own vehicles, farmers in the enclosed cabs of their tractors. In other words, mostly older, white conservatives. Liberals living in the cities are at work during the day, and when they are commuting they often listen to podcasts of a wide variety of programs. Podcasts are a relatively recent development, and are not as popular with older people as the they are with people under 40. People over 40, and especially over 50, listen to live radio. Many of them listen to Rush Limbaugh, and have for decades. They agree with everything he says because he confirms their opinions. There is no room for argument, never mind debate.
Right wing media has its knickers in a twist the past week over the findings by a Boston University theater history professor of some racist performances of “Jingle Bells” from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. The professor, Kyna Hill, was researching the origins of the song and trying to settle whether it was written by James Lord Pierpont in Medford, Massachusetts, or in Savannah, Georgia. Ultimately the song’s point of origin remained unclear, but during the course of her research Professor Hill discovered that the first performance was in 1857 at a theater in Boston, and the white performers wore blackface.
Sleigh Ride in Winter, a painting by Rudolf Frentz the Elder (1831-1918).
Professor Hill never claimed that the song as it is performed today is racist, but that did not deter some right wing media outlets such as Breitbart News from attributing that and other claims to her in an effort to paint her as an advocate of political correctness run amok. Right wing media enjoys fanning the flames of anger among its adherents, and since anger is the fuel of authoritarians, the readers and consumers of Breitbart News and other such outlets are always ready to flame up from a slow burn to a white hot conflagration. If there are not enough true stories available to fan their outrage, then the right wing will have to invent some false stories. The trendy term for that is “fake news”.
All this anger over ginned up controversies surrounding Christmas has been going on for a century, ever since the industrialist Henry Ford began muttering vaguely anti-Semitic remarks about a “War on Christmas”, as the right wing has since dubbed it. Ford thought Jewish owners of department stores were engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the Christianity of Christmas, all while lining their pockets by turning it into a largely secular, mercantile holiday. Never mind that no one twisted the arms of white Christians to engage in an orgy of spending for Christmas. The important thing was to direct right wing anger at an Other as American society turned away from the Currier and Ives mid-nineteenth century vision of Christmas (the same time as the early performances of “Jingle Bells”) to a more cosmopolitan, polyglot vision brought by the waves of immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In Henry Ford’s day, Jews could be openly cast as the Other. After World War II and the Holocaust, that was no longer acceptable, and vilification of the Other settled on Communists, or Reds. The latest target of right wing objectification of an ideological and cultural Other is political correctness, a movement that started in the 1980s and has at times veered into ludicrously priggish stifling of dissenting opinion and alternative behavior, making it easy for the right wing to get outraged about it. Some people mock the excesses of political correctness, while right wingers alternate between mockery and spitting rage. Since political correctness is neither a religion, like Judaism, nor an entire political system, like Communism, the casting of its adherents as the Other by the right wing does not follow the same strand of unalloyed hatred.
Viewed by the right wing, and by some in the rest of society, advocates of political correctness are sociological scolds who are bent on taking away every last bit of cultural heritage of white European culture in America. The Nanny State description sums up the right wing view of the political correctness movement. When a story like the “Jingle Bells” one comes along then, right wingers are primed to pounce on it and vent their anger by putting words into Professor Hill’s mouth, making her a cipher for opinions she never expressed. In the “War on Christmas”, the right wingers proclaim “you are either with us or against us”. As a reward for her scholarship, poor Professor Hill got caught up in the culture war and got set up and knocked down as the right wing’s straw woman of the moment.
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control,’ they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink.’
― from 1984, by George Orwell.
The idea, so long promulgated that people have come to uncritically accept it as truth, of a “liberal media”, meaning by that the mainstream, corporate media, has never been more laughable than today. If people think corporate media outlets such as Cable News Network (CNN), Microsoft National Broadcasting Company (MSNBC), the New York Times, and the Washington Post, are “liberal” then perhaps their definition needs adjustment, because all of these media outlets are owned by giant corporations, and giant corporations are not known for liberal views.
Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company, depicting a young Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press.
What is more important with news is what is left out than what is left in and reported on. Those are the editorial decisions that filter down from corporate headquarters. Individual reporters may be to the left of Karl Marx, but it hardly matters if editors change their stories at the bidding of headquarters. What matters are the terms of debate, or what is open to question and what is not. Much of this is internalized by reporters eventually, or they don’t get to become editors. They have certainly learned and adopted as Gospel the rules of the game by the time they are ready to move up to senior staff.
But readers or viewers of the news never learn what has been left out by politic editors on behalf of their conservative corporate masters. Not every corporate master is conservative? Doubtful. Liberalism doesn’t go with that territory. Some astute members of the public may pick up the general drift of coverage from a particular outlet, but when it comes down to really important matters, they are addressed in nearly the same way by all the corporate media. It comes down to the narcissism of minor differences that Sigmund Freud pointed out when he wrote “It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them.” For the diversion of the masses, educated as well as uneducated, the pundits on television and in the op-ed pages of the newspapers dispute how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, while their corporate masters fleece everyone of every last dollar. It’s a neat trick.
All of that aside, it truly is a disgrace to see the open contempt the current presidential administration and it’s Republican allies around the country display for the Fourth Estate, the Free Press. The corporate, greed-based media, have brought some of this treatment upon themselves with their craven promotion of a shallow reality television star for president – what did they expect? – but what is truly unfortunate is how the disgraceful treatment coming from the White House press room has overflowed to independent news outlets that try to honestly hew to journalistic principles.
The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement”, an 1866 painting by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906).
There are questions to answer, however, before getting up in arms about the bad behavior of the current presidential administration in how it treats media it doesn’t like. First of all, the question of how the current crowd got into office can be bypassed. They are there now, and that’s that. The main question for now is: Who watches these television news shows uncritically and then counts themselves as informed? and Who reads these newspapers that have long since stopped being liberal in anything but stale reputation only, and thinks that they are caught up on the latest left of center take on important issues? Who are these delusional viewers and readers whose uncritical attention and financial support allows this charade to continue and thrive? Are they the ones who support a Free Press against an antagonistic, authoritarian regime in Washington, D.C.? Don’t bet your last corporate media stock share on it.
The recent controversy over Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock goofing in front of a portrait of Hillary Clinton at the White House tells us nothing new really about who these people are. Their immature actions were about what we would expect from a tour group of seventh-graders left unsupervised for a time, and were mild compared to the antics of two gay activists at a White House event in 2012 who flipped the bird at Ronald Reagan’s portrait. Joy Behar on The View accurately characterized the Palin trio as “sore winners”.
Behar’s phrase reveals the authoritarian character of many Trump supporters, and it tells us something about why they would goof in front of the portrait of a defeated political rival rather than merely tell us that they are childishly vindictive. The term “authoritarian” as used here refers to a personality type instead of only a political inclination. More authoritarian personalities are typically drawn to right-wing politics than to the left, but nonetheless there are authoritarians of the left. The Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer has studied and written about the authoritarian personality type, and developed a short test for the type, though he humorously suggests in his notes on the test that you not take the result too much to heart. His book on the subject, The Authoritarians, is available as a free download, and is well worth reading.
We are accustomed to hearing about sore losers, and certainly the Clinton camp has come across as such with their eagerness to cast blame for their election loss on everything and everyone but their own miscalculations and hubris, but Behar’s clever turn of phrase shines an unusual light on the election winners. What do they have to be sore about? Because an examination of the authoritarian character shows they are perpetually aggrieved people who feel put upon by the larger society no matter how powerful and numerous they are within it. An authoritarian always needs a scapegoat, The Other, a straw man (or in the case of the Hillary Clinton portrait, a straw woman), to push against and to externalize their hostility and anger. Anger makes up a large part of the authoritarian character, and for their own well-being they need to turn it outward.
Hitler in Paris, 23 June 1940; photo from the Heinrich Hoffman Collection. Albert Speer, architect, on the left, and Arno Breker, sculptor, on the right.
So we have a trio of winners who take time from their White House tour to gloat over the portrait of a loser; we have a president who continually dredges up his victory over that loser in a childish attempt to validate himself; we have the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who had been licking his chops in anticipation of a Clinton presidency because of the joy and headlines it would have given him in continuously investigating her, and who now appears to have been so deflated by her loss and the no-win prospect for him of investigating the new president that it could have affected his decision to not run for re-election in 2018.
Why then with all this winning are they not happy? True winners, after all, can be happy and generous in their victory. Because as authoritarians they cannot be happy for themselves with winning, but they can be happy with beating someone they have made into The Other. They will prop up a straw man or woman again and again in order to beat that straw person down again and again; they will repeatedly, with hollow enjoyment, revive the memory of The Other’s loss; and they will be disappointed and without purpose when they are deprived of the opportunity to badger a scapegoat and to build up their own esteem at the scapegoat’s expense.
Cheering crowds greet British troops in Paris on Liberation Day, 26 August 1944; photo from the British Imperial War Museum.
Such are the actions of the authoritarians on the right in Washington, D.C., while over on the Left Coast, in Berkeley, California, the authoritarians on the left are not helping the cause of an open society, but are instead hurting it when they make martyrs of right-wing opportunists Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. The old saying “sunshine is the best disinfectant” is beyond their ken. They don’t trust others to make their own adult decisions about what to hear and believe. What is within their ken is that they fervently believe they know what’s best for everybody. That they enlist the words and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr., to validate their tactics is perverse. That the By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and Antifa groups are authoritarian in nature is without doubt. They are certainly not sore winners, and don’t fit the profile of sore losers. They are nothing other than soreheads.
“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s easy to be a nondescript face in the crowd, to blend in, to not rock the boat. It takes no courage at all. It takes courage to stand out, to fold your arms when everybody else is saluting, to take a knee when others go with the flow. Dissent is not un-American, it is at the core of what it means to be an American.
A crowd in Hamburg, Germany in 1936 give the Nazi salute, except for August Landmesser, circled, who folds his arms in protest.
The corporate oligarchy in charge of the United States has co-opted “Support our troops” to undermine dissent from nonconformists against military adventurism overseas. Constant war keeps the profits rolling in for the defense industry and helps the oligarchy control the domestic population by curtailing civil liberties in the name of national security. Pressure from the crowd to support jingoism takes on the colors of patriotism when the oligarchy cynically whips up their fervor with “Support our troops.” That is a phrase which, like the phrase “States’ rights” when used to support Southern secession in the American Civil War, takes on some clarity and cuts through the emotional fog wreathing it when we append to it a questioning clause. States’ rights to do what? Continue slavery? Support our troops in doing what? Enforcing the agenda of the oligarchy?
At home, criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement is used to divert attention from the real need for police reform. Criticism of authoritarian, militarized, unaccountable police is co-opted by talking about and booing the nonconformist protesters of the abuses committed by those out of control police. There is no logic to this; it is all emotion used for manipulation. This is stepping through the looking glass. This is like diverting attention from the revelations about the misconduct of government officials at home and abroad published by WikiLeaks by making the conversation about Julian Assange and speculation about his sources instead. Personalities, not critical analysis of public policies, are what the mainstream corporate media are selling. America, love it or leave it, the mass of faces in the crowd bellow in return.
Blessed Are the Peacemakers by George Bellows, a 1917 anti-war cartoon depicting Jesus with a halo, wearing prison stripes, and in a sidebar a list of His seditious crimes.
So fold your arms when you feel the need, stand out when you have to, and take a knee when that seems the best course. It won’t be easy, but it will be necessary. ― Ed.
“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood.” ― Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Weimar Republic in Germany was all but finished at the end of 1932. In September, Chancellor Franz von Papen had dissolved the parliament, or Reichstag, after a vote of no confidence. The government was in gridlock, and power splintered among a half dozen or more political parties with little inclination to compromise with each other. Von Papen found it impossible to assemble a ruling coalition, and he eventually resigned. On January 30, 1933, by appointment from President Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler took over as Chancellor.
Electioneering outside the Reichstag, July 1932; photo by Georg Pahl
At the end of 1932,six million people were unemployed in Germany, in a population of 65 million. The unemployment level was similar in the United States, where 12 million people were out of work, in a population of 125 million. Nonetheless, the Great Depression hit Germany even harder than the United States because at that time the U.S. was a creditor nation and Germany a debtor nation, with an economy propped up by loans from the Americans. As the effects of the Great Depression became clear around the world, nations moved to impose tariffs to protect their domestically produced goods, and Germany could no longer get export income. Germany had also been crippled by over a decade of reparations payments to the victors of World War I, until July of 1932, when it negotiated a suspension of payments.
In the July elections for seats in the Reichstag, the Nazi Party won 230 seats out of 608 available, giving them the largest representation of any of the parties. Hitler himself never was elected to power, having lost the presidential election to the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg, earlier in the year. As noted, it was Hindenburg who would appoint Hitler to power in 1933.
Electioneering in the countryside, July 1932; photo by Herbert Hoffmann
Amidst the political turmoil of the dissolution of the ineffectual Weimar Republic and the rise of the authoritarian Nazi Party, a singing group of six young men – three of them Jewish – came together in Germany in 1927 and rose to prominence there as well as internationally, until the death of Hindenburg in 1934 removed the last restraints on Hitler’s ambitions and dark dreams. With that the curtain came down and the singing group dissolved, the Jewish members eventually escaping Germany. They called themselves the Comedian Harmonists, and they recorded their version of “Silent Night, Holy Night” on December 9, 1932.