Turnabout for Liberals

Updated 6/27/21

Isn’t it striking how liberals have learned to love war?

Liberals had been bullied for many decades. Because they tended to be dovish on the Cold War and its numerous proxy conflicts, conservatives were able to cast them as sissies who simply didn’t have the cojones to send their sons and daughters off to die in war after war. The liberals took this as stoically as they could, but it hurt. It hurt to be called “commie symps”, or “pinkos”, or “peaceniks”. They winced when they saw an American flag poster with the inscription, “These colors don’t run.”

And it was so unfair. Back in the day, Democrats were just as right-wing as the next fellow. Prior to the Civil War, the Democratic Party in the southern states was ardently pro-slavery, and following the war they cast themselves as the “White Man’s Party” and championed the Jim Crow Laws. Thus they remained dominant in the South, and pioneered the tactic of keeping Black candidates from running as Democrats by insisting that the Democratic Party was a private club that could make its own rules about qualifications for membership. The Voting Rights Act was written to put the kibosh on these practices, but the “private club” argument remained in use, most recently in stacking the deck against Bernie Sanders.

It was a Democratic president, Harry Truman, who embraced the Cold War and presided over the Red Scares of the 1950s. But then things began to deteriorate. The October 26, 1960 edition of the New York Times had this headline: KENNEDY IS CALLED SOFT ON COMMUNISM. Rumors circulated that JFK had been physically intimidated by Khrushchev at a summit conference.

Like sharks smelling blood, the Republicans began to routinely insinuate that Democrats were not manly men, and the Democrats became defensive. The early neocons such as Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson tried to insist that they were just as hawkish as their Republican opponents, but the average American wasn’t buying it.

Journalists, as a rule, tried to position themselves within the safety zone of jingoism. As the Vietnam War dragged on, some began to rebel, and a few, like Seymour Hersh, actually “spoke truth to power” (as Hersh continues to do today.) But with the next round of #RegimeChange wars, such as in Panama, any criticism in the press was sotto voce.

The media reported breathlessly as Republicans gleefully wasted five years of the nation’s time in pursuing silly conspiracy allegations against Bill Clinton, and when the whole project finally fizzled, Clinton and the Dems meekly went back to business as usual. They were like the guy getting sand kicked in his face in the old Charles Atlas ads.

With the beginning of the 21st century defined by the 9/11 attacks, the press simply became cheerleaders for war, accepting and repeating the most outlandish conspiracy theories, such as the famed Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. It was a glorious time for warmongers. The neocons took over the Republican Party and Washington, and the fact that none of them had ever served in the military did not in any way inhibit them from insisting that war was the first and best option to resolve disputes. Democrats endorsed the wars, the mass surveillance, the Patriot Act and the whole package, but it was the Republicans who got the street cred.

By the end of George W. Bush’s second term, the population was beginning to experience war fatigue. Obama slyly promised “Hope” and “Change”, insinuating that he might back off on the perpetual war policy, but that was not to be. Still, Obama’s rhetoric was generally more muted than that of Bush (except for that one week when he was strutting about in full macho bloom, proclaiming that he had defeated the aged and infirm Osama bin Laden in Mortal Kombat. The fact that this prevented bin Laden from testifying at any trial doubtless saved his erstwhile handlers in the US intelligence community from untold embarrassment.)

Still, liberals felt cheated, because Obama never got the manly credit he deserved for launching war after war in the Middle East, and reviving the quiescent Cold War by orchestrating the coup in Ukraine. Although they liked to boast of Obama’s gentility, there was always that quiet resentment that Obama never got to bellow “Mission accomplished” in a flight jacket.

Hillary offered hope for sweet revenge. Her warmongering credentials were impeccable; the nationally televised interview where she sadistically smirked, “We came, we saw, he died!” will live forever in the annals of political vulgarity. She could have been the American Iron Lady, usurping Thatcher’s place in the hearts of neocons. But alas, it was not to be.

But then came a dawning awareness that a Trump administration offered an even better opportunity for revenge. Now the Democrats could be the bullies. All of the abuse they had suffered at the hands of the Republicans could now be repaid, with interest. Trump was to be depicted as a spineless Russian puppet, pawn of an elaborate conspiracy that would do the Birchers proud. The neocons stampeded back into the Democratic Party.

Robert Mueller took over for Kenneth Starr, and the media set out to re-create the halcyon days of the Cold War with a degree of hyperventilation that was unprecedented. They jumped on the bandwagon with the most visceral demonization of a foreign head of state that I have seen in my lifetime (which is saying a lot, after the long parade of “Hitler of the Month Club” bogeymen such as Noriega, Saddam, and Gaddafi.) Vladimir Putin was transformed overnight from a mildly intransigent nationalist to the devil incarnate. Putin’s objection to the steady expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders was transmogrified into a maniacal quest for empire-building.

The normally prim and correct New York Times was emboldened to feature a crassly homophobic cartoon video, depicting Trump and Putin as gay lovers. Liberals who would normally be outraged felt free to snigger. No more Mr. Nice Guy — now the shoe was on the other foot.

In the old days, the John Birch Society had no access to social media and had to rely on fliers and the occasional billboard in order to spread the word that liberals were insufficiently warlike pantywaists. Also, back then the number of conventional news media who were willing to go full-on Russophobic were in the minority. Things have changed today.

Today, journalism has been transformed from a competition for “scoops” (which resulted in more than one fawning relationship to establishment insiders who could provide them), to an ecstatic mind-meld with the neocon foreign policy think-tanks and the secret police agencies. Conspiracy theories are en vogue, provided that they have that Deep State imprimatur, and they are relentlessly tweeted and re-tweeted by cable news personalities with 6-figure salaries.

The declining public confidence in the corporate news media means that suppressing alternative sources becomes a major preoccupation, and that is to be done the old-fashioned way, by shrieking that there are Reds Under The Bed. Every journalist worth his or her salt must spend more time on social media than on preparing stories, in order to drown out the ever-present threat of dissent, dissent which might Undermine Confidence in American Democracy.

Personally, I think that history will ultimately regard Trump as a minor figure in all this. He merely provided that opportunity for something to emerge that had long been long festering beneath the surface. His narcissistic bent makes him extremely sensitive to the relentless bullying, and although he bleated about “fake news” (with much justification), he also allowed himself to be herded into a variety of neocon projects such as the attempted Regime Changing of Syria, Iran, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Attacking these nations garnered him his only favorable press coverage, which he craved.

Trump was an amateur. He had not been carefully groomed to embrace the imperial outlook which we learned from our British “cousins”. There was always the possibility that he might impulsively attempt to achieve detente with Russia and China, as he did, in his clumsy way, attempt to end the long injustice perpetrated by the West against both parts of Korea. Consequently, the neocons made it their business to besiege him throughout his entire administration, and then they used their assets in the media and the DNC to ensure that the next president would be one who would never deviate from their program.