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Accusations in a mirror: US warnings for Australian civil discourse

Extremist rhetoric from the ever-more radical right makes it impossible for their followers to see the facts about the centrist governments in America (and Australia). It prepares the ground for violence.

The New York Times has just released a study into the language used by a group of Republicans it labels “the objectors.” This is the radical posse that most stridently fights the fact that Biden won the election. Together with partisan media, this group of congressmen and women have done incalculable damage to the civic space in America, and may have broken it altogether. We have the same forces at work in Australia, battling to destroy our own democracy. The movement here is nascent, but so was the American version once.

The NYT report maintains a “both sides” faux “balance” throughout the article which makes it ludicrous reading to anyone paying attention. One side continues to play the political game as it evolved, despite decades of Republican efforts to destroy the Democrats’ ability to win at state and federal level. The other side is post-liberalism and post-democracy in its strategies and goals. Democrats who speak of Republican threats to democracy are describing the facts. For the article to leave that distinction to be inferred is cowardly or absurd.

Republicans who speak in extremist terms are, by contrast, deploying the genocidal authoritarian’s rhetorical ploy of “accusations in a mirror.” This term was coined in Rwanda, to describe the way a malign group gains popular support by deceiving its potential followers. The genocidal leader-in-making accuses the target group of planning the atrocities that the mass murderer actually intends to carry out. The target group is planning to massacre our villages, he says. In fact, he is arousing the frightened and enraged people to massacre the target group’s villages.

Republicans have long been riding the tiger of this extremist fringe. They have harnessed its fury and fear, but managed until recent years to keep it out of power. The enraged have now taken over the party, with traditional Republicans driven out of the vocation by constant death-threats if not shame.

The Democrats have been a centre-right political party by Australian standards and are only recently able to be described as centrist. It has a few outliers that are described as radical left for asking for the kinds of lifestyle that Australians have taken for granted. Supporting universal healthcare is hardly an extremist position; it is not that long ago that Australians enjoyed free tertiary education. Until recently, the Democrats have barely protested the decades of “ratfucking” the state Republicans have connived at, and the packing of the crucial Supreme Court (and the rest of the judiciary) that has been taking place. The Democrats have had the majority of the popular vote for the 7 out of the 8 most recent federal elections without the resultant gains. This is because of distortions such as needing to be 11 points ahead in the vote to win control of the House in 2018 for example, because of gerrymandering.

So to have the objectors describe the Democrats as radical is clearly inapt. It is in fact the same kind of gaslighting as Lachlan Murdoch seems to practise when he describes Fox News as “centre right.” (Although it may be that Murdoch genuinely is inculcated enough into the ideology of the radical right as to believe his description.) Murdoch’s assessment is belied by the fact the NYT study states that the objectors link to Fox News items at twice the rate of more traditional Republicans.

Elise Stefanik is the congresswoman who replaced Liz Cheney as the chair of the House Republican Conference, after switching from being a centrist Republican to a Trumpist. Stefanik described the Democrats in a tweet as making “their most aggressive move yet” which she calls a “PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION.” She describes them as “America’s Last Marxists” who are “radically and systematically DESTROYING our country.” These terms and sentiments are echoed endlessly by her contingent and the media outlets that work alongside.

The “permanent election insurrection” evoked is the subject of the Great Replacement conspiracy. In this narrative, the Elites (code for Jewish people, although that is sometimes overt and sometimes elided) are bringing in hordes of non-white and non-Christian immigrants to replace the “native” population, meaning white Christians rather than First Nations of course.

This is rhetoric amplified regularly by Tucker Carlson with the Murdochs apparently acquiescent according to another NYT study. On the Murdoch’s television station, the Jewish element is omitted, but it is clear that the white nationalists and Neo Nazis who celebrate Carlson’s work know the code. This same rhetoric is far more overt on the less “mainstream” Right media outlets. (One, Newsmax, recently found its limit when former CBS journalist Lara Logan described the Replacement as “Satan’s way of taking control of the world” and also asserted that the Elites orchestrating this “dine on the blood of children.”) The constant messaging has created an America where roughly 7 in 10 Republicans believe demographic change is being intentionally orchestrated for political gains.

With the preference of the majority of US voters for live and let live social policies, the Democrats’ resultant support for libertarian social positions has given the radical right the main rhetorical weapon with which to thrash them. Republican politicians and their fellow-travelling media are depicting groups that are not “traditional” as a threat to Americans’ way of life. Not only are the non-white and non-Christian immigrants a danger, but the fact that they, feminists and LGBTQI people have demanded equality is apparently an existential crisis.

The rise of the overlapping Christian Nationalist (and/or Christian Fascist) movement has shaped the dialogue of the movement. They use literal “devil terms” to demonise the centre and left. The fight is presented as a metaphysical battle between good and evil and there can be no compromise.

Stochastic terrorism inspired by this terror-messaging has killed too many at synagogues, mosques, black churches and in minority neighbourhoods. Women have also been targeted by so-called incel terrorist attacks. The decades of work by the religious right to take over the Republican Party has come to fruition in the shutting down of access to abortion in great swathes of the nation (driven in part by the Great Replacement-provoked efforts to lift the homegrown birthrate). The same Great Replacement fears about fertility are part of the attacks on LGBTQI people that currently issue from the tweets, sermons, laws and violence of the right.

The fact that America has long birthed an armed militia movement on the Right makes it far more dangerous. The many armed veterans of the military and law enforcement arguably pose greater risk than the armed LARPers that expand their threat. The number of far right and activist veterans in Australia remains small but concerning.

The same rhetoric that prevails about Biden’s government is applied to the Albanese government here. Political and media figures lead the “devil terms” and they are echoed around social media. The government is “socialist” or even “communist” and “destroying our way of life.” The centre is described as rabid “left” and the left is depicted as an existential danger to “traditional” Australia. This ludicrous depiction of the centre by Coalition figures, by News Corp, by One Nation and the UAP, radically distorts their base’s thinking.

The same vulnerable groups targeted in the US are targeted here. A Queer event in a Melbourne park was recently intimidated by Neo Nazis as they regularly do in the US. While our radical right is, at this point, less of a threat to life, it is deeply inspired by the rhetoric and strategies of the American version. We must be alert to the future risks.

Australia lacks any substantial contrary media voice to counter the messaging from our largely right-leaning media. America is large enough to sustain a more varied voice to challenge this dystopian consensus.

For that reason, it is particularly dangerous to see the NYT aid the radical right by gaslighting readers, describing “both sides” as using extremist language. One side is actually describing the Republican’s extremism, whereas the other side is deploying the most dangerous of rhetorical tools. People have begun to die in what might come to be defined as the opening salvos of a new, messier civil war.

 

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26 comments

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  1. Paul Smith

    Why is there no button to share this on Facebook?

  2. Paul Smith

    “People have begun to die in what might come to be defined as the opening salvos of a new, messier civil war.”
    The civil war is indeed already underway and it is global. It’s people who advocate for an inclusive society vs people who espouse authoritarian means of excluding more and more ‘others’ from the Elect. The first shot in this civil war was fired by James Fields when he used his car in the random murder Heather Heyer in Charlottesville on 12 August 2017.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Paul, the Facebook button for sharing is below the article. Look for “Share this” not far below the donate section. It’s on the left-hand side. 👍

  4. Paul Smith

    Thanks Michael. Maybe it’s my computer that’s not giving me the FB button. I have tried uploading a screenshot of the section where the FB button should be, but I was blocked by GoDaddy both times. On my screen the share links starting from the left are Tweet, [blank], Email, Print, InShare.
    Cheers

  5. Michael Taylor

    In can take a while to load at times, Paul – a relatively new gremlin that resists fixing.

    Another way to get it onto Facebook is to just copy the URL and paste it onto your page or a group.

  6. Andrew James Smith

    Interesting, from the first paragraph regarding the breakdown in civil discourse, often under the Orwellian guise of ‘freedom of speech’ a la former AG claiming the right to denigrate others….

    However, US ‘dog whistling’ expert Prof. Ian Haney-Lopez has researched this area well and published 2013 ‘Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class’ he explains:

    ‘Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives.’

    https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/17847530-dog-whistle-politics

    Worse, in an interview Haney-Lopez elaborated that it’s not just about race, but denigrating liberal democracy (for dysfunction?) and is splitting the nation and middle class; Tory Dame Baroness Warsi also complains of the same in the UK.

  7. Lucy Hamilton

    Thanks for wishing to share it, Paul. I appreciate your desire. I hope you managed it.

    I completely agree about your reading of the civil war. The radical right is a weirdly borderless nation albeit obsessed with borders.

    It’s always hard to find a start point. I like the reading that we’re still working through the end of WW1.

  8. Keith

    The LNP, through Mattias Cormann had meetings with the Tea Party in 2013. Many people will remember the sheer madness that was happening in the US at that time through the Republican Tea Party. The madness has continued as displayed by Trump. Earlier this year in many Republican States, books considered to be reprehensible by Republicans have been pulled out of school libraries. Compliments of the Republican Christian Right.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Polls are saying that the GOP are poised to take back the House in the November mid-terms.

    I just can’t. 🤦🏻‍♂️

  10. wam

    Thanks lucy, for such a rounded story. As an americophobe, I have often laughed at reading twits who think of the ass as left and the elephant as right. The septics exemplify the fact that opinions need no facts to form but once believed they accept no facts that may lead to change. Indeed, deep christians, like the rabbott, will neither listen to nor read any reports that may challenge his beliefs. Surely, there is no more danger to politics, in Australia, than the bible based religious believers. These minorities are politically ensuring their beliefs are kept secret and protected.
    Women are not thought of as equal and black women not thought of as worthy. Enjoy your freedom to write, under ‘lucy’, before we return to the old days of ‘luke’.
    ps
    michael, trump will be led like our speaker to stand but I think he will bolt in.
    pps
    wow media watch on truss and not lehmann but higgins!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Paul Smith

    Thank you Lucy and Michael. As both of you suggested, I C&P’d the URL and posted it to FB.

    May I quote myself by way of explaining why this article resonated so strongly with me. In an online ANZAC Day address in 2020 I said that the Veteran community has a special interest in ensuring that having won the war (WW II) we do not lose the peace:

    “What we do as the Veteran community, especially on ANZAC day, needs to be rethought in the light of a century of change. If what we do includes an acknowledgement of the change to our values and commitments since 1914, we would be in a position to recognise Australia as a work in progress, and to admit that the progress achieved so far is vulnerable to civil sectarianism and disorder. We who honour the fallen might take the lead in reducing the civil sectarianism by questioning our certainties and treating those who don’t share our convictions as fellow Australians rather than the enemy, and hoping for the same from them. We would then be in a position to say that, this is what our predecessors gave up their lives for, and that by giving up our cherished certainties for the greater good we are doing what we can to ensure that they did not die in vain.”

  12. Lucy Hamilton

    Completely agree WAM. My other half was asking resignedly whether I’d get better traction publishing as L. Pendrill Hamilton, rather than Lucy. Grim if so. (Not least because of my wacky middle name.)

    It’s infuriating to watch scared, narrow-minded people trying to reverse the gains of the civil rights movements.

  13. Lucy Hamilton

    I am delighted you quoted yourself, Paul. Excellent ideas, beautifully expressed.
    I could not agree more wholeheartedly.

  14. Michael Taylor

    I agree!

    Paul, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to put my thoughts together about my father – who fought in New Guinea during WW2 – but you’ve said it all for me.

    My Dad hardly spoke of the war, but said one thing that I’ll never forget: “As soon as the war was over I forgave the enemy. They were soldiers like me. It was their government I hated. I also respected the enemy, for the day you lose that respect is the day you’ll be off your guard. And you don’t want to be off your guard when you’re fighting in a war.”

  15. Paul Smith

    Thank you Lucy and Michael. I’d be happy to share the whole address with you if there was a way to do it. Actually, there is. I will attempt to insert the link to the ANZAC Day service in which my address is given. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing my address starts at 11 minutes 33 seconds. Reconciliation with former enemies, so important to your father, Michael, is the crux of this service which recognises the Frontier Wars.

  16. Michael Taylor

    That I gotta watch, Paul. I married a lady from Mullumbimby. 😀

  17. Andy56

    Thank god america is not australia and vice versa. Whilst i will complain we are a bunch of dicks, i have the comfort of knowing we aren’t as big a pile of shit as the americans are. Yes we have the makings of a ratbag right wing here, even “friends”. But most people here can see the folly . For once, i can see why a conservative population has some benefits.

    Although the nut jobs seem to have won the economic ideas You do have to wonder if some people still long for the days of the jungle. Kennet came out all guns blazing on the new SEC and fell flat on his face. At last, people are starting to see ideology for what it is. Unfortunately We are primed for change when we have a government who isnt ready to do change. How can I tell? Recent mutterings by the libs have fallen by the wayside, ridiculed even and not a sign of voter dissatisfaction.

    Is it a modern trend that “right wing ” politics thrives on division? How are they related to anarchists?

    I see the stockings man is a member of the tories and voted for Suni. We always suspected him of being of the aristocracy.
    Now there is an intellectual giant of repute advising a guy who is staggeringly rich on how to run a country thats been kicked to near death by that very same mind set. Karma is a bitch.

  18. Canguro

    Andy56, the fishnet-stockinged one is a ponce; always has been, always will be. As you’d know, both papa and grandpapa were blueblood Liberals, the elder a premier, the younger a diplomat, and both of them serving in the big house in Canberra, so poncy was definitely born a silver-spooner and part of the elite clique within the tight Adelaide establishment. His voice gives him away. Not all folk born in that city speak like that, but Alexander, partly educated in Britain and certainly conditioned into an attitude of inherent superiority, has this affected way of speaking that just telegrams the message that he’s not of your coarse everyday stock but a man of distinction, like daddy and grandpa. Still a dick though, as his stocking fetish reveals.

    Privilege didn’t deter him behaving outrageously towards the East Timorese, as he took control of the illegal bugging intended to give Australian fossil fuel companies a major share of the Timor Gap Sunrise gas field. Will he ever be brought to account? Unlikely, as evidenced by the ruthless pursuit of the truth-tellers rather than the criminal protagonists.

    Anyway, he’s well-named. Downer, indeed. Nothing uplifting about the man at all.

  19. Paul Smith

    Thanks Michael. I hope you are not expecting it to show anything of Mullumbimby. It’s a slide show of Australian War Memorials as the visuals for an audio file of the pre-recorded ceremony. Also, if you haven’t already done it watch it soon (C&P the URL if you want) because I realised after I posted it that I shouldn’t have done so, and I have contacted AIMN asking them to remove it.

  20. Michael Taylor

    I can do that for you. Do you want the video removed?

  21. Paul Smith

    Yes, please Michael, remove it. I would really appreciate that. I wasn’t thinking clearly when I put it there. But I hope you got to see as much of it as you wanted to. I think it resonates strongly with your father’s sentiments. Regards, Paul

  22. Lucy Hamilton

    Ah blast, Paul. I missed the link to the service and your speech. Been off writing a couple more pieces (and chasing the resident toddler around). That wasn’t intentional disrespect.

  23. Paul Smith

    I’m sorry Lucy. I had to act quickly for reasons that I can’t explain here in public, but I did use the Contactus tab for AIM to explain why. I wish I had thought of this in the first place. I will use the Contactus tab again and provide the URL to be sent on to you. If that’s against AIM protocol I am all out of ideas. (Disrespect would not occur to me)

  24. Michael Taylor

    Hi, Paul.

    The “Contact Us” email link appears to have a glitch (that I just then discovered).

    This is our email address: theaimn@internode.on.net

    In the meantime, use that until I can fix the glitch.

  25. Socrates.

    Reads a bit like how the Murdoch tabloids and the IPA’s ABC currently conduct business by gaslight.

    The lnaguage is so slanted and such a gross caricature of much pomo speech.

  26. Paul Smith

    Thank you Michael. That’s very helpful.

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