Elderly leftist academic Frances Fox Piven, who scribed a slightly whacky hypothesis about the redistribution of wealth in the 1960s, is the latest target of Glenn Beck’s demonization campaign, according to the Guardian.
In a McCarthyite pastiche, sans the sophistication, Beck has woven her into a conspiracy fantasy for his two million-strong audience that traces the Marxist plot to take over America via accessible health care back to that wolf in sheep’s clothing Woodrow Wilson.
Now the honorary chair Democratic Socialists of America is being inundated with death threats, which in the current climate cannot easily be shrugged off.
For a man obsessed with Adolf Hitler, Beck certainly appears to have an affinity with his modus operandi. Twisted history, paranoia, fingering a class of people – in this case “progressives” – as the root cause of the nation’s ills.
That’s entertainment. Or should we take Beck more seriously?
After the stasis of the Cold War, history has not ended, but accelerated. In the eye of the storm, it is sometimes easy to miss the movement – how in little more than a decade American hegemony has waned. Rival poles are emerging, ones that do not share the same assumptions about what works – be that “freedom”, “democracy”, or “open markets” – and the US is powerless to do much about it.
A sense of decline – albeit relative – is palpable, and this creeping powerlessness is felt most strongly by the powerless: the poor and petit-bourgeois of Beck’s audience, subject to the whims of market forces now unleashed upon a borderless world.
Measures designed specifically to assist Beck’s audience are transformed by the billionaire-backed Tea Party movement in to further plots against them.
Hitler was of course bank-rolled by industrialists, who viewed him as a bulwark against Bolshevism. His rise came in the wake of economic turbulence and humiliation. He blended Italian fascism with racism to re-birth Germany in his twisted image.
Beck’s task is actually easier. America – like France – is a country that already has an ideology, a clear sense of the superiority of its values, inculcated from school upwards. Given this inherent superiority, what then is to blame for America’s decline? One must search for scapegoats.
In an age in which mass communication permeates every aspect of our lives, it is no longer necessary to instruct one’s henchmen, as per Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, to commit violent acts pour encourager les autres. Islamism demonstrates this. The ramped-up rhetoric of the right made Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting inevitable.
Glenn Beck currently remains an entertainer. In a nation of hundred of millions his audience is not huge, and let’s hope it remains that way.
But it is not inconceivable that history holds further shocks in store. The Euro is looking wobbly, what next? The dollar?
What if the Chinese property bubble bursts or another entirely unanticipated black swan appears on the horizon?
A “ridiculous little man” may find a larger stage beckons, and the last laugh will be on us.