I’ve come to the realization of late that America may be irrevocably broken. Fractured. Split down the middle. It seems that some see things one way, and others see it in a completely opposite, parallax view, as if we’re all living in a full-time 3-D Rorschach test, where reality is fungible. Everything is open to interpretation, opinion, conjecture, speculation, argumentation. Nothing simply exists. Nothing is a simple fact.
Of course it isn’t an accident that this is the case. The situation isn’t new. It’s been deliberately manufactured, exacerbated and exploited for many generations, by many factions all for their own self-aggrandizing purposes. I’m just finally realizing that our American Humpty Dumpty is so broken, there’s no piecing it back together again.
I started doing current events and blog post online in the ‘90s, largely because I was puzzled by the virulent backlash at the time to the presidency of Bill Clinton which was led by Newt Gingrich who was the new architect for the “go negative” strategy that ultimately propelled the GOP to take over the House for the first time in 40 years and made him speaker.
Newt Gingrich described his first congressional opponent as corrupt and incompetent. His next one, according to Gingrich, supported welfare cheaters.
After being elected to Congress from Georgia in 1978, his target became the liberal welfare state. He called the Democratic leadership destructive and thugs, dubbed his opponents’ positions radical and said some Democrats were willing to kill jobs to help win an election.
Most of the italicized words appear in a 1990 training memo teaching Republican candidates how to “speak like Newt.” Newtspeak lives today — it issues regularly from Gingrich’s lectern at the GOP presidential debates — and if it’s effective now, it was downright revolutionary when Gingrich and others pioneered it in the 1980s. Many credit Gingrich — or blame him — for transforming American politics with words.
“The things that came out of Gingrich’s mouth … we had never heard that before from either side,” said Steve Anthony, a Georgia State University lecturer who once headed the state Democratic Party. “Gingrich went so far over the top that the shock factor rendered the opposition frozen for a few years.”
This was essentially a tactic, a ploy, but it has had a lasting impact. The opposition wasn’t simply someone who disagreed, or had a different view, they were hellspawn demons bent on national destruction and destitution. They were corrupt. They. Were. Evil. And even some of Gringrich’s own allies thought it was problematic at the time:
“I am not sure we did the political system a favor,” said Rusty Paul, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman and onetime aide to U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who worked closely with Gingrich. “The language we have used over the past 20 years has so polarized Congress. … The society is as divided as the political rhetoric.”
Yes, it is divided.
As we all know all this rancor essentially led to a stalking of the presidency, through Whitewater, to Troopergate, Filegate, Travelgate, Fostergate ultimately to Monicagate and Impeachment. And not all of this came from the right, “liberal” Hollywood also played its role releasing Primary Colors and Walk the Dog which both essentially imagined that a presidential candidate who just happened to amazingly resemble Bill Clinton and the sitting U.S. president who also resembled Clinton, respectively, were [spoiler alert] closeted pedophiles intent to stop at literally nothing, including using payoffs or the distraction of a false war to escape responsibility and accountability for their crimes.
Primary Colors Gov. Jack Staton, as portrayed by John Travolta, made sense and he wasn’t wrong as he diagnosed the economic problems that affected the Rust Belt nearly 30 years ago. But even Hollywood knew this fantasy Democrat was essentially corrupt in the most vile possible way.
In Wag the Dog, Robert De Niro’s “fixer” uses the imagery, fear creating and heart-string tugging skills of Hollywood to create a temporary media distraction that gets an American president through the breaking of a personal crisis in the last days of his re-election. The conflict is fake. The threat is fake. There is no suitcase bomb hidden in Canada about to be smuggled into the U.S., created in secret terrorist training camps in the hinterlands of Albania. All of that was B.S. intended to keep the eye of the American public off the ball.
And in a very real way—it worked because just one year after this film was released in 1998 Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States and President Bill Clinton authorized a cruise missile strike against Kobar Farms which was his last reported position, but since that strike was launched literally on the day that he was Impeached he was immediately accused of “Wagging the Dog” by trying to come up with a “fake phony war” to distract from his own private dalliances.
President Clinton won warm support for ordering anti-terrorist bombing attacks in Afghanistan and Sudan yesterday from many of the same lawmakers who have criticized him harshly as a leader critically weakened by poor judgment and reckless behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal. […]
But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), one of Clinton’s severest critics earlier in the week, said, “There’s an obvious issue that will be raised internationally as to whether there is any diversionary motivation.” Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.), a possible presidential candidate in 2000, noted “there is a cloud over this presidency.”
And Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who called on Clinton to resign after his speech Monday, said: “The president has been consumed with matters regarding his personal life. It raises questions about whether or not he had the time to devote to this issue, or give the kind of judgment that needed to be given to this issue to call for military action.” […]
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) stressed the importance of a strong U.S. role in foreign affairs, and criticized the administration for ignoring problems other than bin Laden, including Iraq dragging its feet on arms inspections, “North Korea building nuclear weapons,” a stalled Mideast peace process, and “thousands of people being ethnically cleansed in Kosovo.
“This administration for the last seven months has neglected compelling national security threats besides this,” said McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee. “I cannot say that they’ve been neglected because of Monica Lewinsky, but I can say unequivocally that they have been neglected.”
That’s where we were 20 years ago. Bill Clinton tried to bomb Osama bin Laden and although many in Congress supported the action, including Gingrich, others seriously suggested that Clinton may have either been using this attack as a distraction of the Lewinsky issue, or else was too distracted by the Lewinsky issue and may have become “obsessed” with bin Laden. Since then it’s only grown worse.
Nearly a decade later, after bin Laden attacked us both with the U.S. Cole bombing and the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington there was now a thread that he had been “too timid to pull the trigger” in addressing the Al-Qaeda threat as it was presented by the ABC 2 night mini-series Path to 9-11 exactly five years after the event itself.
The truth is that it was George W. Bush who was too feckless to pull the trigger and respond to any of the warnings about bin Laden which went on for months starting with then Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke’s Delenda Plan to address Al-Qaeda.
As we noted to you in our briefings for you, al Qida is not some narrow little terrorist issue that needs to be included in broader regional policy. Rather, several of our regional policies need to address centrally the transnational challenge to the U.S. and our interests posed by Al Qida network. […]
Al Qida is an active, organized, major force that is using a distorted version of Islam to achieve two goals:
- to drive the U.S. out of the Muslim world, forcing the withdrawal of our military and economic presence in countries from Morocco to Indonesia.
- to replace moderate, modern, Western regimes in Muslim countries with theocracies modeled along the lines of the Taliban. […]
I recommend that you have a Principles discussion of al Qida soon and address the following issues:
- Threat Magnitude: Do the Principles agree that al Qida presents a first order threat to US interests in a number of regions, or is this analysis a “chicken little” over reaching and we can proceed without major new initiatives and by handling this in a more routine matter?
- Strategy: If this is a first order matter, how should the existing strategy be modified or strengthened? Two elements of the existing strategy that have not been made to work effectively are a) going after al Qida’s money and b) public information to counter al Qida’s propaganda.
- FY02 Budget: Should we continue the funding increases into State and CIA programs intended to al Qida strategy?
- immediate [Redacted] Decisions: Should we initiate [redacted] funding to the Northern Alliance and to the Uzbek’s?
The NSC principles meeting requested here by Clarke on January 25, 2001, didn’t actually occur until August—just a few weeks before the ultimate attack on September 11. No immediate actions was taken even after that meeting, while in the meantime other warnings had piled up from the FBI Phoenix Memo about guys learning to “fly planes, but not land them” at least 50 warnings of potential hijackings from the FAA, the midnight ride to Condoleeza Rice’s office to personally warn her about Al-Qaeda and the August 6 PDB which identified potential targets in both New York and Washington.
The Bushies were apparently too busy to pay attention to any of this while conducting their weekly strategy meetings on Iraq. Bush used the hyper-patriot distraction strategy of Wag the Dog to keep people off the scent of his own failure to pay proper attention to the real threat so he could push America into the Iraq War based on faked intelligence reports generated by torture and a paid informant so shady they called him “Curveball” while continuing to ignore warnings about the forged Niger Yellowcake document that generated the 16 words from George Tenet, ex-European CIA Chief Tyler Drumheller and ultimately Ambassador Joe Wilson.
Then just as now, some saw things one way and other choose to see it another. The difference being, one view was that bin Laden was a threat and another was that he was merely a puppet and tool of Iraq. And we know where all that led us. Down a rabbit hole.
The Lewinsky scandal and his impeachment damaged the reputation of Clinton causing him to stand down during the 2000 election fight between Al Gore and Bush ultimately allowing a narrow victory for Bush. We then saw the “corrupt, feckless” narrative used again during the Bush re-election fight against Vietnam War Hero John Kerry as VP Cheney opined gravely “If we make the wrong decision — we might be hit again.” This completely ignores the reality that we were hit the first time not because Bill Clinton was “too distracted by Monica” but because Bush and Cheney were too distracted by Saddam Hussein.
One set of Americans saw this one way, and another set saw it completely differently. This hasn’t changed over 20 years, it’s only grown worse. With the advent of Fox News, Breitbart and Newsmax one narrative—that which is most advantageous to the needs of the GOP support system of modern robber barons—is constantly pushed, while the mainstream media continues to push the narrative of false equivalency and equal levels of corruption among the parties.
I’ll leave you with one more prophetic film example of how deep our national split has grown. Bob Roberts, the 1992 movie where Tim Robbins plays an ultra right-wing senatorial candidate who is also a media star. He is able to woo a rabid throng of adoring admirers to his cause while thoroughly gaslighting them by manipulating the media coverage to his advantage time and time again.
Remind you of anyone?
And there were also his rabid fans and his handling of the media.
Again, since the 90’s, the 2000’s and the 8 year term of Barack Obama this has only gotten worse. From Limbaugh to Fox News and Brietbart the alternative reality narrative has only grown louder and brighter with it’s conspiracy theories and attacks on the rest of us. We were told Obama was a “Muslim”, that he was secretly “Kenyan” and also secretly a “Black Nationalist” and “Anti-Colonial”, that he “hated America”, that he was in league with the Muslim brotherhood. that he was a “Racist” because he was sympathetic with the victims of police abuse and murder, that he was secretly “Gay” and that his wife Michelle was a trans-woman and his children were somehow completely fabricated. We were repeatedly told that he went on an “apology tour” across the world, that he “coddled our enemies” and repelled our friends, that he and Hillary had a secret affair, that he plotted to get Ambassador Chris Stevens killed in Benghazi, by issuing a “stand down” order wthich shades of the “Path to 9/11” smear. None of which is true for any of us, but a vast swath of Americans believe every bit of this nonsense and far worse. Every good accomplishment, from implementing the ACA, Killing Bin Laden and pulling the economy out of the ditch of the great recession wast strategically either ignored or reviled.
Now we have Trump who openly gaslights the nation with paranoid delusions from the WH through his outaded unsecured Samsung Galaxy S5 on Twitter each and every day. As much as we scream that Trump is lying, the more his rabid fans ignore what we say and dismiss it as “fake news” and bitter partisan Trump derangement syndrome.
I don’t know that these divergent visions of American can necessarily be stitched back together into to a cohesive whole. I don’t know if we can heal the decades of gaslighting, fake grievance and out right bullshit that is coursing through the veins of the Alt-Right Alt Media. Trump didn’t invent any of this, this was the existing landscape when he ultimately decided to run—but the sad part is that it will likely remain to be the case long after he’s gone.
The optimist in me wants there to be a solution to it all, some way to negotiate back into a common state of reality, some way to avoid what seems inevitable, the pragmatist says we must have a solution or our society will slowly dissolve into a permanent state of conflict, strife and acrimony.
I still have hope, but the realist in my says —we’re fracked, literally.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.