August 6, 2022

Our Cynically Curated “Era of Bad Feelings.”

by Hal Gershowitz

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Approximately two hundred years ago, America was enjoying what historians refer to as the “Era of Good Feelings.” The era characterized the Presidency of James Monroe, who was the last American president to run unopposed for the highest office in the land. But that was then, and this is now. Future historians may describe today’s America as the “Era of Bad Feelings.” America is, indeed, experiencing a carefully curated “Era of Bad Feelings.”

Several months ago, I addressed an audience of about one hundred men and women. I began by asking everyone to raise their hand if there had been no politically caused stress within their family. Not a single hand went up.

The rough and tumble of American politics is as American as apple pie. But what we are experiencing today is different, dangerously different. We are living through a carefully curated miasma. A deliberate and well-orchestrated effort to create friction to keep the country off balance and to keep the national mood sour and the people anxious. It is not a new phenomenon in relatively recent world history. Josef Goebbels, the infamous NAZI Minister of Propaganda, spoke nearly a century ago of the ease with which people can be manipulated to do terrible things. “What luck for governments,” he observed shortly after Hitler came to power, “that people don’t think.”

Think of the personalities today who carefully practice what Goebbels mastered with great skill and effect. Think of Alex Jones, who tapped into this public gullibility to which Goebbels alluded. Jones, who this week was found liable for damages stemming from his rabidly outrageous rants about the Sandy Hook massacre of children being a hoax, knows, just as Josef Goebbels knew, and the likes of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump and Victor Orban know, that there is within any society a distressing public appetite for utterly outrageous calumnies. And the more outrageous, the more ravenous the sycophantic appetite becomes. Jones, of course, does it for money as he hawks various products by mesmerizing his gullible audience with over-the-top absurdities. Others embrace these carefully curated lies for pure political power.

Steve Bannon also understands how to manipulate the masses. As he bragged to writer Michael Lewis, “the way to deal with them (the media) is to flood the zone with shit.”… “This is not about persuasion,” Bannon once reportedly proclaimed, “This is about disorientation.” Indeed. Bannon has never been bashful about this Gobbelsian-like strategy. “What Trump’s gonna do is declare victory. He’s gonna declare himself a winner…that doesn’t mean he’s a winner; he’s just gonna say he’s a winner.” Trump, Bannon proclaimed, would declare victory on election night—even if he were losing. Listening to the hour-long audio, one hears Bannon predict that Trump’s false declaration of victory would lead to widespread political violence, along with “crazy” efforts by Trump to stay in office. And so, Trump did, and many of his followers have been doing crazy ever since. Goebbels would be ecstatic.

Victor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary and a darling of the American far right, headlined the CPAC convention this week along with Donald Trump and a host of new MAGA Republican primary winners. Speaker after speaker at the conservative conclave served, with a straight face, generous portions of debunked stolen-election red meat to an enthusiastic crowd.

Orban, who was once a leading anti-communist in Hungry, has devolved into an impressive authoritarian in his own right. He has delivered to the Maga crowd a scapegoat to demonize in the person of George Soros. Soros, a liberal, and an incredibly wealthy investor, has donated billions to promote liberal democracy and international cooperation. He founded and funded Hungary’s Central European University (CEU), which quickly became an impressive and prestigious bastion of liberal, democracy-promoting, independent thought. Orban, neither liberal, democracy-promoting, nor tolerant of independent thought, has effectively run CEU out of Hungary. American ultra-conservative talking heads have, in turn, also made Soros the prime target of conspiracy theorists. Soros, who as a young teenager saw fascist authoritarianism up close and personal in Nazi-occupied Hungary, is not one to shy away from a fight, notwithstanding assassination attempts on his life. Soros has been the leading donor to the Secretary of State project, which seeks to elect Democratic candidates to Secretary of State positions at the state level. The impetus for the Secretary of State Project took hold after the 2004 election, when Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican Secretary of State, ruled that Ohio would not count properly registered provisional ballots that had been inadvertently submitted at the wrong precincts.

It’s not just the 2020 election hijinks.

The dismantling of ROE by the conservative Trump-majority Supreme Court also contributes to this new Era of Bad Feelings. A recent poll conducted by Generation Lab and Axios reveals that 50 percent of young voting-age Americans are really upset, with forty-one percent expressing anger and 32 percent expressing hopelessness. Young voters are taking notice as Republican-led legislatures rush to implement near-total bans on abortion, with two out of three respondents declaring that state abortion laws would influence where they choose to live and, accordingly, where they will choose to work and pay taxes. It will undoubtedly affect how they vote. Concurrently, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 60 percent of all respondents disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Overwhelmingly Republican Voters turned out in conservative Kansas this week to turn down by nearly 60% a referendum proposal to end access to abortion in the Sunflower state. Peggy Noonan, an excellent writer and thoughtful journalist, who considers herself pro-life, observed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “…the pro-life advocates who filled the rhetorical void competed over who could be the most hardline: There should be no exceptions for rape, if it even was rape. There should be no exceptions for the life of the mother. That gives dishonest doctors room to make false claims. Maybe we can jail women for getting abortions. It was gross, (she wrote) ignorant, and extreme. It excited their followers but hurt the cause they supposedly care about. There was an air of misogyny, of hostility to women. It was, unlike the most thoughtful pro-life arguments of the past 50 years, unloving, unprotective, and punitive. People heard it and thought: No, that’s not what we want.”

And Friday, the Indiana Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation, which Governor Eric Holcomb immediately signed, that prohibits nearly all abortions from the moment of gestation. Several Republican-controlled states have teed up similar legislation, which will shortly become law in those states.

Republican rhetoric in state after state will be viewed by many as misogynistic and hostile to women, and voters are taking note. With mid-term elections less than 90 days away, there is growing speculation that Republicans salivating at the prospect of sweeping congress in the mid-terms might be a bit premature. It may all boil down to what party America blames most for this new Era of Bad Feelings in which the country finds itself.

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18 responses to “Our Cynically Curated “Era of Bad Feelings.””

  1. Perry Altshule says:

    All normal Republicans who believe in conservative government have no where to go in the upcoming election
    They have been abandoned by their own party. Now they must find a way to fight back against the right wing of their party and the only way is to withhold their votes from extremists who follow MAGA down a fascist hole in the ground
    America has fought wars against facisim and won we must fight continue this fight if we care about our democracy. We can’t just let the loudest voices in the rooms shouts make our decisions

    • Rick Gordon says:

      In my geography I have a Republican running for re-election in the Senate who has a track record that anyone would be proud of – including support for immigration. I also have a Republican running for re-election in the House that I despise – and thankfully, he has an admirable opponent in the Republican primary – whom I support. The stereotype that there are no ‘good’ Republicans is a falsehood propagated by the media and Democrat talking points on social media.

      • Gary L Borger says:

        I hope you’re right as the traditional Republican party was a good political balance for our country, but it appears swamped by the crazy propaganda-driven MAGA movement of which Goebbels would be proud.

    • Gary L Borger says:

      Hear, hear! The squeakiest wheel gets the grease. Those who scream the loudest get the media’s attention, BUT we each get one vote at the ballot box. I am hopefully optimistic that the extreme Republicans and their right-wing Supreme Court justices may bring out a record number of fearful and mid-term voters.

    • Suzie Byrd says:

      I very much appreciate your comments. I was once a republican but changed parties when I decided to vote more for women and equality issues. I have been known to vote for a republican but can’t do it now because they are unacceptable. I believe in debate and negotiation and feel strongly we need to start over in congress.

    • Lars says:

      Now is the time for a third party.

  2. LWY says:

    A while back you responded to someones comments by indicating you rarely talk about Trump, yet every week you seem to cover him, even though he has been out of office for 18 months. When are you going to cover our current president and his policies? I know you said you converted from a Republican to a Democrat, but if you are going to be a discussion leader shouldn’t you be a little more balanced in your topics? At least appeal to the centrist once in a while!

    • Reply to LWY: Thank you for your comment. For the record, I am not a Democrat.
      A review of recent columns does not support your contention that “Yet, every week you seem to cover him (Trump).
      Actually, this week’s column is not about Trump, although he is mentioned.
      Last Week’s column, “Is our Two-Party system a Failing Paradigm”Paradoxical America: Is not about Trump.
      My July 16th Column, Paradoxical America: The Company We Keep,” doesn’t mention Trump.
      My July 9th column, ” The 2nd amendment, Highland Park, and 2-year-old Aiden McCarthy doesn’t mention Trump.
      My June 25, 2022 column, “High Court Time travelers reach Way Back to the Future: GOP Supremes Kill Roe,” isn’t about Trump.
      I do, however, agree with LWY that Trump commands much more attention in general than is warranted.

      • Steve Prover says:

        I respectfully disagree. As titular head of the republican party Donald Trump merits every bit of scrutiny he receives

  3. Perry says:

    Conservatives just like Liberals are entitled to their opinions and to believe that CPAC is the
    sum total of the Republican party or agenda is so misleading.

    Would expect to see the radical agenda of Cori Bush or Rashida or OAC discussed here as well. The Democrats indeed are filled with radicals of their own.

  4. Prover Stephen E. says:

    Week after week a handful of conservative contributors to this commentary section invariably ignore the detailed documented observations so eloquently presented. . Instead they insist week after week the author turn his attention to Democratic radicals such as Joe Biden and Cory Booker who are hellbent on destroying the country. They are far from radical. There do exist radical members in the Democrat Party. I am not always certain whom to designate as radical. So called Democrat radicals may have an impact but are from in control of the party. The Republican radical right and Donald Trump appear to have the Republican Party well under their total control. This is frightening and Republicans who ignore the remarkable observations made weekly in these weekly columns do so at their own political peril.

  5. B.J. says:

    Hal, I don’t disagree with any of the names that you stated in your piece. But this elite strategy of creating political strife does not solely belong to Republicans. Surely, you can list numerous Democrats who also “embrace… carefully curated lies for pure political power. … Well orchestrated effort to create friction.”

  6. Stuart Goldfine says:

    This week should have been a commentary of broadcaster, Vin Scully. Outside of Dodger Stadium should be a life-size statue of him. He was a man of the people.

    I was never a Dodger fan, but Scully was a master of his work and like the late basketball coach, John Wooden, they are the type of men that should be idolized, not politiians of either party. Today, the baseball announcers all spout stupid acronyms, like bat speed, launch angle, distance traveled and other worthless trivia. What is WHIP, WAR, etc.? Do you think Babe Ruth cared? If the batted ball ends in the stands, it is a home run and counts the same then as it does today.

    Politicians live to get elected, fail on their promises, and get fat retirement and medical benefits far beyond anyone like me. They should have the same benefits as the rest of their electorate or maybe we, the electorate, should get the same benefits as they receive.

  7. B.J. says:

    Both political parties are quite intent on not just maintaining but intensifying the political fissure in this country. Sadly, these divisions have caused stress, anger and discord where we find no compromise for common cause or national unity.

  8. Frank Berman says:

    LWY has it right. You have put Trump in the same paragraph as Josef Goebbels and thereby seek to suggest they are similar. That is both outrageous and demagoguery. I do have difficulty with Trump but he is not to be compared , however remotely or incidentally, with the Nazi propagandist by any clear thinking and fair observer.

    Then you seek to place George Soros in a favorable light. He is the one who is wildly supporting soft on crime prosecutors who are being recalled or heavily criticized in some out largest cities. See his recent op/Ed piece on the WSJ where he both admits and brags about it as crime runs rampant while some some progressives like Omar and AOC continue to push the “defund the police” lunacy.

    Your “conservative Trump appointed Supreme Court” decision on abortion is more Trump fixation on your part. It is 9 Justices, 6 appointed by other presidents. Moreover, to assume that it is a political body—which it is not— is not a service to your readers. Though I disagree with the result of the Court overruling two longstanding precedents that people have relied on for many years, I have seen little criticism of the legal reasoning involved. At the same time the legal reasoning in Roe v Wade has been vigorously criticized by many legal scholars.

    Indeed, I believe the Court gave the democrats a mid term election issue they never expected. It is now an election of Biden’s inflation vs the GOP’s largely unpopular position on abortion rather then simply a referendum on the leadership of the last two years. That is the byproduct of the SC getting into the abortion issue it should have left alone for practical reasons.

  9. judy allen says:

    Frank Berman, I am total agreement with you. Hal, you lost me in your praise of George Soros.

  10. Stuart Goldfine says:

    Frank Berman, you are outstanding with your blog. George Soros is a cancer for the world. 100% correct. Stuart G.

  11. BLB says:

    Frank Berman, excellent commentary! Totally agree, especially about George Soros. I was hoping when I read the comments about George Soros that I was reading the wrong column….hard to believe what I was reading.
    And, also the comment that the CPAC group is the totality of the Republican party and their thinking…..so NOT TRUE! Believe it or not, there are many of us conservatives/Republicans who have moved on from Donald Trump and his narcissistic speeches, ie, the one at CPAC. We have not abandoned the Republican party, as you profess to have done. We are part of the “Calvary that is coming” in the November elections. Hopefully, we are not too late!

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