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Understanding Glenn Beck and the End of His Fox News Program
Fox News is closing Beck's program, the end of his attack against the first black president and his effort to influence what churches can teach, promoting an 'official' civil religion.
By Ed Knudson
We have been commenting on the phenomenon of Glenn Beck in this space since March of 2010 (see below). But we are now happy to end this commentary with the announcement that Fox News has ended the evening Beck television show.
I watched some of his show again last night where he claimed that the uprisings in Wisconsin were the work of international socialist and Communist movements and that these movements were overtaking America and destroying the country. Never before have I listened to such nonsense designed to scare Americans and cause them to support tax and budget proposals leading to an increasingly unequal society. Anything government does is, for Beck, a "socialist" endeavor; he has no real understanding of the constitution or the nature of democracy. He makes money saying extremist stuff and hopefully now he will have much less impact on the public consciousness of the country.
Imagine watching the same television station over and over to get your "news" of what's happening in the world. If it is Fox News your mental orientation (your "interpretive map" of how the world works) would be severely distorted by a profit-oriented company which wants you to be angry and riled up so you will watch its television station. Now Glenn Beck has begun a systematic attack on churches which preach social and economic justice (mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics). Here we will document some of this and try to understand it. Most recent comments are from the top.
2/20/11 - Beck is Losing His Audience
One of the things to realize about Glenn Beck (and other right wing talkers) is that he is first and foremost an entertainer, his career has been in the radio business, his job is to gain a large audience for his advertisers. To do that he has to say outrageous things, things a normal person would not say, he has to make big claims that "they are coming to get you" and "they want to destroy you," it is all about manufactured conspiracies, and lately he has even been preaching the hysterical apocalypticism of the religious right. This, of course, is false Christianity of the kind we have seen from the television preachers who especially began in the 1980s who also needed to generate large audiences by scaring people with end-times scenarios. It makes these preachers alot of money, but it is not true Christianity. Religion as entertainment is completely corrupt.
But even as entertainment, Glenn Beck is now losing his audience. This is forcing him to make statements which are even more wild, and hopefully causing him to be watched even less. Frank Rich in New York Times says the following in a very good article on the lack of ideas of the conservative right wing:
Glenn Beck’s ratings at Fox News continued their steady decline, falling to an all-time low last month. He has lost 39 percent of his viewers in a year and 48 percent of the prime 25-to-54 age demographic. His strenuous recent efforts to portray the Egyptian revolution as an apocalyptic leftist-jihadist conspiracy have inspired more laughs than adherents.In a recent broadcast Beck said that the Egyptian and Wisconsin demonstrations have "proved he is right" about the coming "chaos" which is being promoted by leftists. His wild rantings actually made me feel a bit sad for him, the man is more clown than anything resembling news or accurate commentary. The truth is that he is the one promoting chaos, chaotic thought, chaotic politics, engaging in simplistic attacks. His advice to his audience one night was to "store food" for use when the society falls apart. People should be careful about their political judgments; relying on an entertainer for serious policy proposals is not wise nor helpful in troubled times.
1/22/11 - The Elites Want to Control You
The last few nights Beck has been drawing pictures on his blackboard using an analogy of a rancher who builds fences to control his cows. The rancher represents the "elites" who want to manipulate and control the cows which are you the people. The elites are in the big, bad government.
This focus on elites has been a staple of neo-conservative rhetoric for many years now. It was neo-conservatives who invented the idea of a "new class" of information workers who, they said, don't believe in the principles of the country and associate themselves with the Democratic Party, it is the college-educated professionals from the east who think they are better than others. Carl Rove is an expert in this way of thinking, and crafting political messages setting up this way of framing issues, the educated elites against regular people. So Glenn Beck is repeating an old message of the Republican Party which has worked very successfully for them.
For Beck, a prime example of an elite person is Frances Fox Piven, he keeps going after her (see entry below for 1/12/11). Now, just think about this, Piven is a little known academic whose books are read by a small group interested in social analysis. This woman is so powerful, for Beck, that her thinking has become dangerous for the the entire country. But this is, of course, preposterous. The real power ifluencing the minds and hearts of people today is the modern corporation and its advertising that daily is directed into the millions of homes of the American people. Wealthy persons today, with their foundations and control over corporate resources, hire lobbiests, set up think tanks, organize astro-turf groups, give money to political campaigns, and so forth. There is absolutely no comparison between the power of the modern corporation and an unknown figure like Frances Fox Piven. Yet it is Piven who is the real danger, for Beck. It is truly ridiculous, yet many people will listen to Beck and think he is telling truth.
Think about the fact that real conservatives have taught that this is a representative democracy, that the people elect representatives, thought to be wise and knowledgable persons in the community, to make decisions concerning what is best for the entire community. This is what republican democracy means. It is Republicans who have at the center of their political philosophy great faith in the idea of a group of "elites" (elected representatives). But the days of old Republican traditions are gone, now the Republican Party is dominated by extremists such as Beck willing to say anything to get a large audience to make money, willing to do anything to get elected, willing to agitate against all "elites" as if a kind of mass psychosis can represent reality. Beck's thoughts are jumbled and confused. At one point one night ago he said the Enlightenment means "reason and God" but then, sensing he wasn't sure about what he was saying, he left that thought dangling. He doesn't realize when he uses his simplistic attacks against people there are some who take these attacks literally. Since Beck has been attacking her, Frances Fox Piven has received several death threats.
But the main thing to realize about Beck is that he is mouthing the same stuff conservatives have been saying since 1980 and Ronald Reagan. Reagan's rhetoric against educated elites and the 1960s led many blue collar Democrats to vote for him, and this has been electing Republicans ever since. Republicans have dominated politics for three decades, even elected Democrats have become "centrist" and unwilling to pursue historically liberal policies. If you don't like how things are in the country, if you are mad about what has been happening, then you should realize that it is Republicans who have been in power over these years. They have been elected by attacking government and elites, just the sort of thing Glenn Beck is saying again now.
1/12/11 - The Creation of a Violent Moral Environment
Watching Glenn Beck again last night revealed again how he repeats over and over certain conspiracy themes; the repitition itself is important to notice. Beck is trying to build up a conspiracy narrative which explains current history so that individuals listening can locate themselves within this narrative, can come to understand themselves and their own political identity and determine definitions of how to act in politics, how to answer the questions of what is right and wrong, what is honorable and dishonorable. He has created a pantheon of evil people who he claims are trying to create a violent revolution in this country. The problem is, of course, it is exactly himself, Glenn Beck, who is promoting violent revolution, which is the very definition of the whole "Tea Party" movement. The inconsistencies in Beck's thought pattern are extreme and out of whack with realtiy.
One of the evil persons Beck harps about again and again is sociologist Frances Fox Piven who has written books from the perspective of concern for working people and the poor. I have read her books and she is a highly respected figure among those involved in social analysis today. But for Beck she is one who is fomenting revolution and is a threat to the country.
I strongly encourage readers to view a video at Democracy Now which features Frances Fox Piven. The video demonstrates the level of violence that Beck's rhetoric raises in what can be called the "moral environment" of the nation. There have been many threats to the life of Piven, for example, as a result of Beck's verbal attacks on her. The video contains some comments of visitors to Beck's website exposing the level of hostile appeals for gun violence against Piven that are chilling. This is not "conservative" political rhetoric, it is an extremist and alarming call for the worst kind of random political violence, exactly the kind of thing that creates a moral environment within which a mentally ill person can be influenced to walk up to a congresswoman and shoot her in the head, as happened last Saturday.
6/25/10 - Interpretive Maps: The Return of McCarthyism
I cannot stomach listening to Beck too often but I feel it necessary to watch his program from time to time since so many people are taking his comments as truth about our times and acting in politics according to what Beck is saying. Beck has a clear "interpretive map" in his mind by which he evaluates the statements of others, how they use language, and how words are associated with events or political philosophies. Beck's is an immensely simplistic interpretive map, an either-or mentality, either one believes fully and absolutely in capitalism or one is a Communist. That is, if you agree with Beck then you believe in the Founding Fathers and capitalism, if not you are a Communist and socialist and you support the killing of millions of people by people like Stalin and Mao.
This was all repeated again last night in a focus on Communism. Even though I don't watch him every night, when I do watch the same things are repeated over and over again, the fact that Obama's mother studied "critical theory" makes her a Communist, Obama had a mentor who was Communist, and that means Obama himself must be a Communist, and he has brought Communists into the White House like Cass Sunstein.
But last night Beck hailed a book which tries to resurrect Joe McCarthy and his campaign against Communists in the 1950s, saying that McCarthy was telling the truth, that FDR brought many Communists into the government and the State Department. So Beck is associating FDR himself, his policies and programs, with Communism, so to support the New Deal programs such as Social Security is to promote a Communistic idea. This kind of either-or thinking really is dangerous in a democratic society. It simplifies everything and promotes a political view which ignores social and economic facts about what has become a massively complex, technological world. It is a kind of lying, failing to see the very real differences of what is meant by terms such as Communism (which has a very complex history) and socialism (practiced today in Nordic countries to some degree). To assume that any social democratic program such as Social Security is a Communist conspiracy is wrong thinking and does not take history seriously, and Beck thereby is leading his listeners to act politically on very wrong ideas.
Last night Beck quotes anti-communist comments from Ezra Taft Benson who died in 1994 and was the thirteenth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormans), the church to which Beck belongs. So we have a religious authority being used as a basis for Beck's hysterical anti-communism. Beck is using his religious beliefs as a basis for his political advocacy. That ought to make anyone who is serious about his or her Christian faith to think much more carefully about what is being promoted here.
One question to ask is why, why is Beck promoting such a fierce anti-communism at this time? He portrays himself as an honest person reading history, but how has anti-communism been used in the past? One of its uses was to oppose the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When I went South to help in that movement I was called at the time a "Communist" from the North, an "outside agitator" trying to interfere in the social structure of the South. So one function of anti-communism is to provide a cover for racist attitudes and political opposition to the civil rights of blacks and other minorities.
The term "capitalism" is used by Beck in a very general way as if it is easy define and it is only one thing, having to do with the "free individual" and the "free market." But such a simple view of capitalism masks the ways that the term is used today ideologically in support of the large corporations, who are not "individuals" but giant institutional players in politics today and whose power and wealth are used against true democratic governance. Large economic interests today used generalized rhetoric about captialism to get the general public to hate government, to convince people that taxing corporations is bad, and the result is the general taxpayer ends up bailing out these large corporations when their actions destroy themselves, as has happened in the recent financial crash.
In the program last night Beck set capitalism over against working people. He especially hates unions, and his talk about unions and workers equated them with Communism. If you support worker safety and a family wage for workers then you are a Communist for Beck. This is utterly ridiculous, but many have come to believe it. On the other hand, many historians suggest it was unions which helped save this country from Communist movement, unions have been the prime vehicle for the building of the middle class in this country after the second world war. The international perspective of unions in this country has been decidedly anti-Communist during the Cold War. Beck's equation of unions with Communism is fundamentally wrong. Communism is a philosophy which takes the side of workers, but in a democratic society the many workers should be able to have influence in politics over-against the few owners without being labelled totally Communistic.
If by capitalism Beck means total control of society by the modern corporation then he has become a tool of corporate interests against the vast majority of people in the country. He makes a big salary by getting large numbers of common folks to think in such a way as to allow corporations to dominate the minds and hearts and lives of the people. The idea of free individualism is not served when it results in allowing corporations to do whatever they want no matter how they harm workers, society, and the physical environment.
Beck is resurrecting anti-communism today because it has been a potent weapon in the political and cultural wars of the past. The whole Cold War was fueled by this rhetoric. Even nuclear war was threatened to be used against Communist nations for the sake of saving capitalism. Despite this history, the modern corporation today has decided it is easier to do business in a Communist nation, China, where the workers are controlled and real unions are not even allowed. The wealthy invest their tax breaks in Communist China, Wal-Mart forces its suppliers to move to China so prices can be lower. China has found a way to use capitalism to strengthen the power of a non-democratic state. You won't hear Beck talk about that, he lives in the 1950s world of the John Birch Society, which believed that even Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist.
Honest people of faith need to think much more carefully about history and how it is used and abused for political gain today. The interpretive map of Glenn Beck is not helpful for serious political involvement in public life. The country faces serious issues which will not be solved by Beck's simplistic thinking, in fact, his thinking threatens the future of the country. A politics based on the level of irrationalism of a Beck and a McCarthy will not help the country adjust to the formidable challenges it faces.
So, don't listen to Beck, don't give him an audience, encourage others you know who might watch him to turn him off. If you want to know from time to time what he is saying come here and read this account. Fox News, its owners and contributors and its advertisers should be embarassed to allow themselves to be in any way associated with him.
6/2/10 - Soupy Sentimentality
Last night Beck spent most of the time of his hour show talking about himself and how is being attacked by others and why everyone should feel sorry for him because he is being unfairly criticized, even as he himself went on to say that anyone who disagrees with him doesn't believe in the constitution as he understands it. This is what people like Glenn Beck do, they set up their own standards for what makes for patriotism and then claim that anyone who disagrees is not a true patriot and worthy of fierce hatred and hostility. When Beck accuses people of fascism and attacks Obama for being like Hitler, this means he is offering reasons for people to violently oppose Obama and those who support him. It is an incitation of violence.
Underneath this is a highly romanticized version of the country, the founding fathers, and the constitution. Last night Beck actually said the constitution is "divinely inspired," the same language used by the religious right for the bible. So he is invoking "God" as the direct source of the words of the constitution, taking it out of the dimension of history. So to disagree with Beck is now to disagree that the constitution is divinely inspired. This is, for Christians who know their own faith, is, of course, idoltry, worshipping a false God.
Listening to Beck last night, and his highly personal emotional appeals, I was reminded of the fact that this country fails to provide its citizens with a set of powerful human symbols representing the country, such as England enjoys. The Queen represents such a powerful symbol there even if she does not have actual political power. In this country everything is wrapped up in one person, the President. The President must represent the whole symbolic significance of the country, but also must be involved in the messy daily life of politics in concrete ways. The latter have a way of demonstrating the frailty of human life and institutions despite modern science and technology. It is easy, always easy for any political observer, to criticize a president for failing to achieve the level of highly sentimental and lofty expectations to provide for complete certainty, order, stability, and legitimacy as represented in the quasi-divine figure of royalty itself.
A true "conservative" in its historical meaning is one who yearns for a strong, authoritative figure who will make sure everyone is safe. This is a yearning for a father figure. It may well be that Beck has become a dangerous political commentator because he is appealing to this highly romanticized need for absolute certainty, such as claiming the constitution is divinely inspired. Like the bible, the document itself is worshipped, rather than actually read and taken seriously. It is precisely such romanticism that undergirded the appeal of Hitler in Germany. After the loss of World War I and the vast social change brought into being in the democratic Weimar Republic the German people yearned for a strong central figure, a sort of father figure, who would make all things right and good again.
If anything other than God is romantically worshipped as a divine figure, that thing will finally be destroyed, because nothing other than God can provide such certainty. Beck is preaching a soupy sentimentality, but what he is saying has the potential to destroy the very thing he thinks is most important. When a talk show host movtivated by the desire to build a big audience and make lots of money starts talking about God it is time for serious people to take notice and to criticize such talk, even if it makes people like Glenn Beck cry.
5/13/10 - Environmental Conspiracy Theory?
Tonight I saw a part of Beck's program where he talked about how there is a small group of people who are convinced environment issues are so serious that it is necessary to work for a collapse of the industrial economy of the rich nations. Beck likes to say he is not trying to express conspiracy theories, but then again and again that is exactly the form of the language he uses, as in his talk about a "small group" which desires to destroy industrial economy.
Just think about this a bit. It is not a small group that is thinking these things, there has been over the last decades a very large change in the views of most Americans that it is necessary to change industrial practices for the sake of clean air and water. This is not a small group, it is the best scientists and thinkers of our time in most of our higher education institutions. This is not a small group, it is a massive change of the attitudes of most Americans. It was under Richard Nixon that the Envrionmental Protection Agency was created in the federal government. The best of our scientists have been making clear for some time the reality of climate change. It is not a small group meeting behind closed doors that is promoting change in the industrial economy, it has been at the center of public debate for a long time now. Large numbers of people realize the rich nations have to change their ways. It has become completely obvious to most people that we cannot go on forever at the same current level of oil energy usage.
What is true is that a rather small group of people like Glenn Beck and some business interests have been trying to convince the public that climate change and energy issues are not important, trying to claim the environment is not worthy of thought and concern. It is Beck himself who is the "radical extremist" and is trying to create conspiracies out of matters which have been issues of full public debate. He is ridiculous and hysterical in his efforts to gain an audience out of fear and anger. It is easy to attack people rather than to make a serious contribution to careful and helpful thought about something that the society faces.
It is truly difficult to understand how Fox News can continue to allow this man to speak this nonsense. It is completely irresponsible public talk.
5/12/10 - Beck is New Spokesperson for Religious Right
The death of Jerry Falwell, the aging of Pat Robinson, and the retirement of James Dobson have left the religious right with fewer well-known spokespersons. Into that vacuum has come Glenn Beck, not trained in theology but who is demonstrating that he is happy to try to articulate his Mormon views as a kind of civil religion for the whole country. On his program last night Beck said that "social justice" is a code word for Communism which is an explicit attack on the Primary Protestant denominations in this country. But these denominations don't have a history of responding to such attacks.
Some years ago I wrote:
In discussions with friends and associates I am often amazed at the timid responses I receive when I say we in the ecumenical church have allowed the religious right inordinate power in current public culture. The fact is that one of the two major political parties in this country promotes and manipulates the religious right without which it could not further it's radical right-wing agenda. It is necessary for us to speak up directly and explicitly against the religious right. Pat Robinson of the 700 Club has said, for example: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." Robertson's outrageous views are exposed in this quote in the Washington Post: "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."One of the groups trying to counter the religious right is the Interfaith Alliance. Help them speak up against the religious right and Glenn Beck.
5/6/10 - The Crying Conservative Mormon
Alexander Zaitchik is writing a book on Beck, an excerpt has been published at Alternet which shows the influence of Morman teaching and culture on Beck, including his crying and his need to "bear witness" to his feelings and his nostalgia for a past that never was. "The degeneracy of Mormon sentimentalist culture has resulted in more than just horrible film and fiction. It has also obliterated any possibility of a fuller reckoning with the complexities of history."
5/3/10 - The Tree of Revolution
Thanks to The Nation magazine for the image on the right, which portrays the blackboard of Glenn Beck and his associations of Obama with people Beck calls radicals. Beck is convinced that these few people have complete power over the mind and heart of Barack Obama. He says over and over that these people don't "believe in" capitalism (as if it is a kind of religion), as if capitalism is more important than democracy, as if capitalism as a way to organize an economy is a comprehensive political philosophy which should over-ride the constitution. Beck does not realize that capitalism has resulted in the growth and dominance of a few giant corporations in most of the domains of our economic life, including banks and finance the actions of which have recently severely damaged the lives and incomes of millions of Americans. Libertarians such as Beck believe in "invididual freedom" but their policies result in allowing large corporations to do what they want, and the result is not freedom for normal folks but domination of their lives. Economic institutions need to be carefully regulated to insure that they result in what is good for everybody rather than for the wealthy few.
4/7/10 - Marxism equals "spreading the wealth"
Last night Beck put pictures of Obama's mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, a black poet who served as a mentor, his pastor (Jeremiah Wright), his current religious advisor (Jim Wallis), and others, and called them all "Marxist" and said directly of Obama, "he is a socialist". Obama's mother believed in "critical theory" which is Marxism, Beck says. The liberation theology of Jeremiah Wright is Marxist. Jim Wallis was quoted as saying the gospel calls for sharing of wealth so that makes him a Marxist. These are all just "facts" and Beck says he is not trying to say Obama is a bad person, Obama is a brilliant man but he does not believe in free market capitalism as he claims, says Beck. Beck uses the words "freedom" and "honesty" and "responsibility" as his values as if Obama does not believe in these.
Do we want to believe in Madison or Marx, asks Beck. He sets up the founding fathers over against Obama, ignoring two hundred years of history of the country, ignoring the industrial revolution and the urbanization of America, ignoring the development of the fields of sociology and economics (Marx was a theoretician of both). Beck does not talk about what Marxism really is in its full teachings and what may be helpful or unhelpful about it, he associates socialism with Nazism, not the social democracy of the Nordic nations, and he evens uses the word Communism as if everyone clearly knows what this is as well. Beck is trying to talk in very highly abstract terms but what he is saying has little to do with reality, the reality of what these various terms actually mean in practical, current, political and policy options before the American people.
If Beck wanted to actually discuss economics he should be helping the American people understand why the financial meltdown occurred, a very specific history of the past few years, and the various theories for this breakdown of capitalism and what specific institutions and persons and events were involved. Instead he is abstractly referring to the "free market" as if it is a religious belief, not a theory for how the economy works or doesn't work.
Beck is not making arguments, he is making invidious associations, taking a hated symbol and associated it with Obama to discredit him. You don't need to be a Marxist to understand that the ever increasing concentration of wealth in a few hands, which has been happening since 1980, is not a good thing for most people in democracy.
4/6/10 - Politics is finally really, really serious
With the Obama announcement of policy changes restricting the use of nuclear weapons I all of a sudden realized again what a serious matter it is what we call political discourse. And then I thought about how ridiculous is the content of most of what is talked about on the political talk shows right and left. These talkers and their supportive companies are motivated to gain larger audiences to make more money, but remembering the Cold War and its serious debates over the use of nuclear weapons should remind us that, indeed, political debates lead to decisions on extremely sensitive matters such as the use of weapons with massive destructive potential.
One of the reasons Lyndon Johnson won the election for president in 1964 was his portrayal of Barry Goldwater as a trigger-happy extremist. Do you really want such a person in charge of nuclear weapons? And so we think of the tea party groups and Glenn Beck today. Do we really want such people establishing policies over the use of nuclear weapons? These matters really are serious, not the sort of thing you want someone in charge of if they are filled with irrational hatred, or willing to encourage others to be angry about everything and to use violence to show how big and tough they are.
Jonathan Schell has just written a good piece on nuclear weapons and quotes Henry Kissinger:
The basic dilemma of the nuclear age has been with us since Hiroshima: how to bring the destructiveness of modern weapons into some moral or political relationship with the objectives that are being pursued. Any use of nuclear weapons is certain to involve a level of casualties and devastation out of proportion to foreseeable foreign-policy objectives. Efforts to develop a more nuanced application have never succeeded, from the doctrine of a geographically limited nuclear war in the 1950s and 1960s to the "mutual assured destruction" theory of general nuclear war in the 1970s.Schell says it is time to think seriously again about nuclear weapons because more and more states are able to obtain them and use them. I hope this conversation is not dominated by tea party talk. If you start hearing anger over the new Obama policy you will know that the level of irrationality has gone over the limit in a democratic society. If such talk dominates the public sphere it will demonstrate that this nation is incapable of governing itself, that profit-motivated companies have destroyed the capacity for serious discussion in what is supposed to be a democratic polity.
4/5/10 - A movement fractured within itself
A conservative named Russell King has written an Open Letter to Conservatives listing what he believes is the irrational rhetoric being used now by conservatives and Republicans and Tea Party types. This is a very extensive and documented letter and worth a look.
Jonathan Raban in the New York Review of Books writes about his attendance at the Tea Party Nation conference in at a posh resort in Nashville featuring Sarah Palin. He notes that the movement includes both libertarians and religious right believers. He ran into people on both sides who disapproved of one another and writes:
This wasn't a trivial issue. It's one thing for pro-life evangelicals and secular libertarians to march shoulder to shoulder behind banners saying "Kill the Bill!" and "Oust the Marxist Usurper!" or displaying a portrait of Obama rouged up and kohled to look like Heath Ledger's Joker in the Batman movie Dark Knight. It's quite another to coop up the same people for three days in a hotel, where they must talk to each other through breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the march on D.C., there were T-shirts proclaiming "I am John Galt" and "Atlas Has Shrugged" alongside others that said "Obama Spends—Jesus Saves" or had the legend "Yes, He Did" beneath a picture of Christ on the cross. At Opryland, devout, abstemious Christians were breaking bread with followers of Ayn Rand's gospel of unbridled and atheistic self-interest. The convention, designed to unite the Tea Party movement, was helping to expose fundamental differences of belief and mindset between people who, before Nashville, had appeared as interchangeable members of a single angry crowd.
3/27/10 - Nostalgia and Civic Religion Evangelization
A couple nights ago Beck used a standard trick to encourage people to feel they have "lost" their country. He referred several times to his own growing up, depicting images on an old television set and appealing to an earlier time when thing were better. As people age there is a characteristic feeling of have lost their earlier youth and many of Beck's listeners are in the older age bracket. However, if you remember back to, say, the 1950s when Eisenhower was president the highest income tax bracket was 91% of income! As Paul Krugman has noticed in his articles and books the period between the end of the second world war and the 1980s was a time when government began programs explicitly aimed at building the middle class. Since the 1980s it is not liberals who have been in power but conservatives, conservative Republicans as well as conservative Democrats. So to blame things on liberals is quite untrue, especially related to tax matters. If you do not like the way things are it is a little hard to place the blame on liberals when conservatives have been in charge. But, still, when people hear Glenn Beck express his nostalgia they don't think, they just start feeling deprived and angry, which is just what Beck wants them to feel (rather than think as he claims).
Last night Beck appeared before a group in Florida and said that he was not interested in organizing a political movement, but to encourage people to change their own lives. Exactly what he is trying to do is uncertain from his comments, and his answers to questions from the audience. He appears actually to being a kind of evangelist of libertarianism. Many radio talk show hosts begin as libertarians because it is so easy to be against the government with that sort of political philosophy; it is unnecessary to carefully consider what sort of government may be helpful and necessary for society, one can just attack all government. But classic libertarianism does not use God to justify its views as Beck is trying to do. So we appear to have a kind civil religion developing here, an effort to bring together libertarian philosophy with conservative religious belief. If you bring those two groups together, of course, they will fight like dogs and cats, but Beck may be trying to unite them.
3/25/10 - The results of the Glenn Beck talk, and Others
Here is a map of hate groups in the USA, sixty-six groups in Texas alone, note the higher numbers of groups in Southern states.
John Avlon at the Daily Beast comments on a Harris poll yesterday which reveals what he calls the "Obama Derangement Syndrome—pathological hatred of the president posing as patriotism" which "has infected the Republican Party." The Harris poll found that:
67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist. The belief that Obama is a “domestic enemy” is widely held—a sign of trouble yet to come. 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president" 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did" Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist." These numbers all come from a brand-new Harris poll, inspired in part by my new book Wingnuts. It demonstrates the cost of the campaign of fear and hate that has been pumped up in the service of hyper-partisanship over the past 15 months. We are playing with dynamite by demonizing our president and dividing the United States in the process. What might be good for ratings is bad for the country.For more detail on the Harris Poll see this link, which includes the educational differences of persons who do or do not believe these things about Barack Obama.
Beck is not an isolated case of right wing rhetoric, of course. He relies on vast networks of conservative think tanks and organizations which have been funded by the foundations based on profits of the wealthy who want to manipulate the minds of citizens to vote in the interests of the rich rather than what is best for everyone. The wealthy have a great stake in trying to make sure that the people do not make "justice" a major value in their political philosophies. Ever since the 1960s conservatives have decided they must fund opposition groups to the peace and justice initiatives of the sixties. This is documented in this article on Frances Fox Piven, one of the persons Beck calls a Marxist on his program.
3/24/10 - "It's Going to Get Much Worse"
This was the theme of Beck's program this evening (it's on at 11pm in the Pacific Northwest). He begun with a summary of the 60s, how the radicals then used bombs (SDS, Ayers) and violence, everything regular folks hated, so they lost. Now these very people have taken over the government (Van Jones, Ayers, Jim Wallis, Andy Stern of SEIU, and they are conducting the justice revolution now they wanted in the 60s.
Here Beck is repeating one of the fundamental narratives of the conservative movement, that the 60s represent all that is bad. Much of that movement constitutes a backlash to that period and the gains of blacks in civil rights.
Beck tells his audience that the rulers today want the tea party to use violence but that will descredit the movement, so he tells people not to pick up guns but turn to God. Things will get much worse in the future but we can count on God to help do what's necessary.
He says that Obama will next try to do immigration reform in order to get "illegal aliens" to be able to vote.
3/23/10 - Pastor Jim Wallis called a Marxist
Tonight Beck explicitly talked about Soujourner's founder Jim Wallis and played tapes demonstrating, in Beck's mind, that Wallis is a Marxist, and said that Wallis was a confidant of President Obama which is further proof that Obama himself is a Marxist. The definition of a "Marxist" for Beck is to believe in "spreading the wealth" as Obama had told Joe the Plumber during the campaign, the tape of which was played on the show again. So, for Beck, any form of social welfare or progressive taxes is "Marxism" in complete contradiction on how these terms have been defined in American history.
3/13/10 - Blow the whistle on Roger Ailes?
Howell Raines at the Washington Post asks: "Why haven't America's old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration -- a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?" Raines says Fox is not journalism in any sense of the word but Ailes justifies his methods the same way right wing preachers do, by the fact that he builds big audiences. The truth doesn't matter, just get masses of people together by any means necessary.
So a big audience brought together by lies is OK, that is exactly the method used by Hitler as well. What is generally unrealized in this country is that the methods used and justified by current right wing political organizations are similar to those used an justified by fascists.
3/12/10 - Anger at inauguration sparks the 9.12 movement
During his television program this evening Beck celebrated the first anniversary of what he calls the "9.12 movement", referring to 9 principles and 12 values the country should honor after the terrorist attacks of 9/12. He played a conversation on his radio show which had sparked the idea for this movement. The man calling into the show said that the comments of Walter Lowrie (a black pastor) at the inauguration of Barack Obama (the first black president) led him to believe there was something terribly wrong with the country. This clearly indicates the underlying motivation of this whole movement as a racist reaction to the election of Obama. Of the some fifty or so people in the studio during this anniversary celebration there was not one black person.
3/10/10 - Beck attacks Churches which advocate for justice
On March 2 Glenn Beck attacked those churches which advocate for "social and economic justice", which are, of course, the mainline Protestant churches and Roman Catholics. In fact, he associated those churches with both Communism and Nazism. James Martin of the Society of Jesus has written a response detailing the history of Roman Catholic teaching on social justice.
But we Protestants also should stand up against this blatant effort by a major media network to determine the content of our faith in preaching and advocacy. Glenn Beck has become not just another television personality, but an active initiator of an extremely right wing tea party movement which is seriously important to Republican lawmakers. Glenn Beck is a political agent trying to determine what should be the content of Christian faith in this country, just as Republican politics for some time now has been trying to use religious faith for its own purposes and promoting particular types of religious expression as quasi "official" in this country. Whenever the state tries to determine the content of religious faith it creates a serious matter for Christians.
What we need to realize is the truth that the henchmen of Hitler tried to force the Christian Church to give up its tradition of advocacy for the poor and adopt the teachings of racial superiority and military imperialism of Nazism. What Glenn Beck accuses of the mainline Protestants and Catholics (promoting Nazism) is exactly the behavior he is engaging in. The Protestant Church needs to stand up and make its own confession over-against the intimidation of people like Glenn Beck just as the confessing church stood up against Hitler.
Beck is a Mormon convert. The New York Times report on Beck's comments included a response from Philip Barlow, the Arrington professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University: "One way to read the Book of Mormon is that it’s a vast tract on social justice. A lot of Latter-day Saints would think that Beck was asking them to leave their own church.” The Times article continued: "Mr. Barlow said that just this year, the church’s highest authority, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, issued a new 'Handbook of Instructions' in which they revised the church’s 'threefold mission' and added a fourth mission statement: Care for the poor."
To send a response to Beck and Fox News go to Sojourners.
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