September 9, 2022

The Dark Art of Political Scapegoating: It Works Every Time.

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

The strongly right-leaning Koch Brothers were “as un-American as you can get,” according to the late Senator Harry Reid, just as George Soros (on the other end of the political spectrum) is the target of equally vicious invective by a chorus of right-wingers ranging from Hungary’s Victor Orbán to Georgia’s 14th congressional district’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, with a hefty boost from political bloviators such as Fox’s Tucker Carlson. It’s all about giving a particular constituency someone to hate and, conversely, of course, an alternative someone to fawn over. It works, pretty much, every time. It’s ugly, it’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.

Hate is easy to sell. Simply link an individual with a hateful cause. As Winston Churchill once remarked, “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Sadly, it’s true. Recently, I commented in this column that George Soros had founded the Central European University and became a strong supporter of liberal Secretaries of State candidates following the disqualification (by a conservative Secretary of State) of over 100,000 provisional ballots cast by legally registered voters in Ohio because their ballots were submitted at wrong precincts following the 2004 Bush–Kerr election.

Some readers commented that George Soros was “a cancer for the world,” and another commented, “you lost me when ‘you praised’ George Soros.” I received correspondence that lamented my “support of George Soros.” Now, I carry no brief for George Soros nor Charlie Koch, and I disagree with positions they have taken on various issues, while I applaud the positions they have taken on other issues. It is, however, easy to recognize the well-organized hate campaigns that have been and are being waged against them and, of course, others.

Hate is a genie that is easy to release and next to impossible to rein in. Just ask Nicola Sacco or Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Oh, never mind, they were executed even though highly exculpatory and convincing evidence suggested that they were innocent. Fifty years after they were electrocuted, the Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis, apologized for their unfair conviction and execution. There were many others against whom hate was easily manufactured and liberally distributed throughout this realm or that realm. Lieutenant-colonel Alfred Dreyfus comes to mind, as does Sir Thomas More.

Scapegoating doesn’t require a walk through history, however, because it is always present in real-time and in our time. Charlie Koch and George Soros are worthwhile cases in point. My purpose is not to extol their virtues, given that reasonable people can certainly object to causes they have championed. If one doesn’t like fossil fuels, there is plenty to dislike about the Kochs. And if one leans conservative, it is very easy to oppose a liberal billionaire who generously provides support to liberal causes. It is estimated that George Soros has contributed over $30 billion to generally liberal causes, which drives many conservatives to distraction. But here’s the thing; so has Charlie Koch.

The Kochs have generously supported higher education, public television, medical research, and, yes, even environmental stewardship, earning EPA’s 2022 Energy Star Partner of the Year Award, and Charlie Koch has been recognized by former President Barack Obama for giving felons a second chance through his support of criminal justice reform, and the Kochs have, lavishly, supported the arts. They are politically conservative, generously so, but they are not the evil incarnate that Harry Reid made them out to be. Reid was simply furious that they made serious money available to Republican candidates, which Reid had to try to offset with cash donated by Democratic contributors.

And it is for precisely that reason that abject hatred is stirred up against George Soros. When it comes to scapegoating George Soros, it seems anything goes. One chronic calumny is that Soros, who is Jewish, was a Nazi collaborator (he was 8-years-old when the war broke out and fifteen when it ended). Reuters recently debunked the false claim that a young Soros in an apparent photo-shopped Nazi uniform was a member of the Nazi Schutzstaffel, a Nazi paramilitary organization.

Social media sites have accused Soros of funding caravans of immigrants (untrue), of stating he would “bring down America” (also untrue), when, in fact, one would be hard pressed to find very many Americans who have invested as heavily in America as has Soros.

George Soros has been described as the world’s most famous boogeyman. He is an incredibly successful investor and may be the most successful currency prognosticator in history. Many people simply cannot abide by his immense financial support of liberal causes, including his funding of the Open Society Foundation, which attempts to empower massive participation by as many people as possible in the workings of their communities and countries. But much of the criticism of Soros and his international financial backing of liberal causes is little more than bare-knuckles Antisemitism masquerading as routine political give-and-take, just as mischaracterizing Charlie Koch as “un-American as you can get” is an unjustified, immense calumny.  

Soros contributed heavily to bringing down communism and generously supported dissidents in the Soviet Union, and he has supported Palestinian rights as well. Liberal democracy and human rights have always been high on his priority list of worthwhile causes.

The causes Soros supports are overwhelmingly very liberal, and political conservatives generally abhor much of what he supports, but that doesn’t justify the wholesale manufacture of lies and conspiracy theories about Soros that abounds in social media and so much of the far-right press.

Viktor Orbán, authoritarian Prime Minister of Hungary and a darling of the far right has demonized Soros, just as other authoritarian leaders in history have demonized and mischaracterized highly visible critics who opposed what they stood for. It was ugly in the nineteen thirties and is no less ugly today.

Ironically, George Soros and Charlie Koch, who dwell on opposite ends of the political spectrum, have joined as partners providing the largest contributions to the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft to promote diplomacy as an alternative to perpetual and dangerous confrontation.  

Men and women of goodwill can find a great deal to applaud and a great deal to criticize regarding the largess that billionaires such as Charlie Koch and George Soros commit to political activism. But calculated attempts to slander them with vicious epithets are really what is as un-American as one can get.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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7 responses to “The Dark Art of Political Scapegoating: It Works Every Time.”

  1. Brenda Martino says:

    It is so nice to see a non partisan article these days. I have always looked at the candidates and voted for the one I thought would do the best job. I don’t consider myself Republican or Democrat. Thank you for this essay.

  2. Patrick okey says:

    The Koch’s seemingly philanthropic activities are well documented in Jane Meyer’s book Dark Money as 1) being very strategic in nature, 2) being very self serving, & 3) distorting democracy’s foundational rule by the majority. While it is a dense read, it is enlightening nonetheless.

  3. Ray Galante says:

    Excellent re Soros & Koch. Divergent views do not require mayhem. These fellows’ followers should “stay cool”; Americans can strongly disagree but always remain nonviolent.

  4. Craig Swenson says:

    It would be informative to see a complete list of the approximate major contributions to the various organizations and the focus or mission of each organization along with each organization’s political identity as Left, Progressive, Moderate, Conservative, and/or Right….and why. That way, we don’t have to rely on valuation by other people without specific evidence.

  5. Perry Green says:

    Your essay today was fair and balanced and taken to heart. When I vote it is for the candidate who truly is intelligent, articulate, and informed. As a conservative I vote for the candidate that in
    my opinion will do the job. Too many blindly vote strictly along party lines regardless of ability
    to be effective.
    I have met Charles Koch in the desert and found him to be quite friendly and with a purpose to keep America a strong free society.

  6. BLB says:

    Good essay….however, I think you failed to mention George Soros’s contributions/funding to the liberal DA’s in many cities that are not putting convicted criminals in jail, but allowing them to be released. And, thus, allowing them to go back into society and commit more crimes.
    He may have funded some worthwhile causes, but I think this is definitely one that voters should be aware of when voting for local officials.

  7. Rick Gordon says:

    Bravo! I especially like the even-handed discussion on both the Kochs and Soros. It is easy to hate – and much more difficult to take the time to research and evaluate what is being said (circulated) before reaching your own conclusion. Scapegoating has a long (unfortunate) history – often accusing religious groups of nefarious (evil) practices – with no basis.

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