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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