Magazine article In These Times

There Will Be Paranoia

Magazine article In These Times

There Will Be Paranoia

Article excerpt

Lengthy screeds featuring the dangers and hypocrisy of the New Right are common fare in progressive publications. Although I tend to agree with the screeds, I find them tiresome and sometimes counterproductive. By bestowing so much attention on the haters who have formed the

Tea Party movement and largely co-opted the Republican Party, the authors of the screeds flatter those who would oppress the afflicted rather than help the afflicted help themselves.

But Arthur Goldwag's The New Hate; A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right (Pantheon) is a welcome relief. Yes, Goldwag is worried about the men and women who constitute what he calls the Populist Right. But instead of mounting another frontal attack, Goldwag offers sober historical context. Nothing neutralizes bulîies like derision grounded in research, and Goldwag offers enough material to yield a lifetime of snickering, if not outright laughter. He collected some of that material in his previous books: Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, The Illuminati, Skull ana Bones, Black Helicopters, The New World Order, and many, many more; and 'Isms and Ologies: All the Movements, Ideologies and Doctrines That Have Shaped Our World.

Goldwag wants to understand the origins of the hostility in his new book. Here is perhaps his best explanation: "The New Hate is at once the expression of a quixotic desire to turn back the clock to a mythical golden age when women and minorities and gays and foreigners were less troublesome than they are today; when the government only gave and never took; and a cynical ploy to up the turnout of Republican voters. Most of the time it's reflexive and vindictive to its core."

Goldwag underscores how the past serves as prologue. Again and again in The New Hate, he demonstrates how the theories, and the rhetoric spreading those theories, were devised decades and sometimes centuries earlier by previous generations of conspiracy-minded, history-twisting, racist, misogynistic, homophobic evangelicals. Since the internet spawned authoritative-sounding blogs and social media, the haters appear to have become better at reaching beyond the lunatic fringe. For example, right after Barack Obama's election, Goldwag noticed the controversy over Obama's birth certificate continued unabated. He wondered whether to add a paragraph about Birthers to a new edition of one of his previous books, but decided "that references to such a transitory political derangement might just as easily date" the book as update it. No one will remember the Birthers six months hence, he calculated - mistakenly.

The equivalent of the Birther movement has existed in previous centuries and inspired books by clearheaded authors. As Goldwag notes, the "canonical works of scholarship" preceding his include The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter; RightWing Populism in America; Too Close for Comfort by Chip Beriet and Matthew N. Lyons; and The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 17901967 by Seymour Martin Upset and Earl Raab. Goldwag's tome is the most upto-date, naturally, but it is also the best written and the least paranoid about paranoid haters.

Because Goldwag's book is so impressively grounded in historical research about the Populist Right, it does not come across solely as a polemic based on passion and selective use of evidence. Still, because of the targets' sleaziness and stupidity, in some of the case studies Goiclwag provides he cannot help editorializing. In a passage about Birtherism, Goldwag notes the alleged conspiracy "would have required either supernatural forethought or time travel, as not only is a birth certificate with a raised seal and signature on file in Hawaii's office of vital records but contemporaneous announcements of Obama's birth were published in two Honolulu newspapers "

When Goldwag launched a blog a few years ago, he received lots of correspondence from individuals who probably never would have read his books, but found him online. …

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