By Douglas Johnson
Responding to the attack on the US capitol building in January, Stephen Schneck, the Franciscan Action Network Executive Director, wrote “Today was one of the most shameful days that I can remember in the history of our country.” He added, “what we have witnessed is an insurrection against the laws, the Constitution, and the democracy that is the United States… I call on President Trump to cease abetting such behavior, and to respect our laws and Constitution, to accept the peaceful transition of power, and to support the norms and processes of our sacred democracy.”
While it’s clear that the violence, which led to the deaths of five people, was tragic and shameful, I believe Mr. Schneck, like many Americans, is overlooking the underlying cause of the violence. Unless we recognize the cause, the violence will surely continue.
It’s critical to understand the mindset of the Trump loyalists in general and their outrage that day. Trump followers, who are predominantly white working class, have had their communities and lives decimated by 50 years of neoliberal policy. NAFTA has deindustrialized the country and sent factory jobs overseas. Labor unions have been crushed, causing lower pay and longer working hours – for those who can find work. Social welfare programs have been cut, while home foreclosures and evictions have increased, due in part by predatory practices stemming from banking deregulation. Real wages have fallen, while trillions of dollars have been diverted to the high-tech war industry to fight fruitless foreign wars. Working class communities, once thriving, are now boarded up wastelands. The legacies of their fathers and grandfathers are now in tatters while they scramble to pick up the pieces of their broken American Dream.
The destruction is bipartisan. Both the Democrats and Republicans are to blame, and Trump – a supposed outsider – promised to drain the swamp. They voted for Trump because they didn’t know any better. Many argued, looking at Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, that there wasn’t anyone better to vote for. Those of us who think we “know better” did what we always seem to do at election time: choose the “lesser of two evils,” which we interpret as the candidate with a long, sordid, and corrupt history of representing Wall Street at the expense of the working class. These politicians, we rationalize, are at least “stable.” We hold our noses to avoid the stench while we choose the lesser evil. Naturally, the president we get every time is evil. Knowing that the system had sold them out, the Trump voters took a chance on someone who seemed to embody the “American Dream,” yet who would upend the entire rotten system on their behalf.
How could they be so ill-informed? Why can’t anyone get through to them or reason with them? To understand their mindset, you must also look at how we get our news. Due to deregulation of the FCC, the major media outlets are consolidated into the hands of a half-dozen billionaires whose primary objective is making money rather than delivering factual news. News is a consumer product, and sowing division is the marketing strategy, according to Matt Taibi’s latest book, “Hate, Inc.: Why Today’s Media Make Us Despise One Another.” Until the 1990s, the traditional business model of corporate news outlets was to target the widest demographic possible, which garnered the maximum profit. As demographics began to splinter and atomize, due in part to the internet, news media began targeting a specific political demographic as a business model. Examples are Fox News – which targets conservative Republicans, and MSNBC – which targets liberal Democrats. To maximize profits, each demographic is fed stories that validate and reinforce the opinions already held by their audience. They constantly frighten, agitate or enrage their viewers by stories about such things as immigrants, crimes, minorities, etc, while then reassuring them that all would be well as long as the viewers sided with a particular politician or policy. The 24 hour news cycle leaves little time for effective fact-checking.
Corporate media outlets also discovered they could make more money if they chose stories that upset their viewers and sow division. Division, they discovered, is what sells best. The citizenry, now completely polarized, no longer receive the same accepted facts within their demographic, meaning they can no longer debate the other side or even engage in civil discussion. Through constant updates throughout the day, viewers remain stressed, addicted, and divided from their neighbors. When Trump came onto the political scene in 2015, he became the corporate media’s ideal consumer product, the ultimate divider. The corporate strategy on both sides was to air Trump news day and night. Anything Trump related would do, even if it was a stretch to tie Trump to the story somehow. Five years of sowing perpetual upset, stress, division, and addiction to “news” led to record profits for corporate news outlets.
The real culprit here is a corrupt system that puts profit over people as its inherent principle. Politicians in both parties represent corporate interests almost exclusively, in exchange for enormous amounts of cash and power. They merely pay lip service to the people Hillary Clinton referred to as “the Deplorables.” The corporate media have also cashed in on their suffering. The American people are now left teetering on the brink in this time of Covid, ill-informed of ways to create viable solutions. The violence committed at the capitol building may be all they have left to give after years of physical and mental neglect and abuse.
Blaming Trump or his followers, or “supporting our norms and processes” misses the mark entirely. Our system of predatory capitalism is reaching its torturous conclusion, and we would be wise to begin embracing compassion and empathy as our core principles.
Doug Johnson was a peace activist in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1990s before moving to the Middle East. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in “Information Clearing House” on February 09, 2021. Reproduction is encouraged and should include this link to the original article: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/56302.htm