My family and I have unwittingly fallen into the trap of making donations to political candidates and PACs online. As a result, we get literally dozens of pleas for money a day, most of them from either apologetic candidates with apocalyptic messages or nasty PACs that browbeat and badger. All of them are guilty of what my mother’s generation used to call crying wolf or, worse, a vile kind of guilt tripping (“Nancy Pelosi emailed you, Chuck Schumer emailed you” … and you, you cheap little swine, can’t cough up another $5 bucks, or is it another $188 bucks, to help our noble cause? You ignoble creep… or so the implication reads).
And now, by some cyber fluke, we’re getting pleading emails from the Republicans, too! Newt and Mitch are in my inbox! There is no mercy.
What fascinates me, though, is that both parties are using the same kind of scare tactics, shaming, sky-is-falling pitches in their emails. They are so much alike — and so utterly intransigent and bellicose, with no-holds-barred and taking no prisoners — it leads me to an even deeper conviction that the United States is in some stage of a cold civil war. Few shots have been fired yet, but endless skullduggery and dirty tricks and malign propaganda are befouling everything this cold war touches.
Are the two political parties the same, as self-righteous non-voters were screaming a few years ago? Emphatically not. But they do raise grassroots money the same way, and they may even hyperbolize using the same PR tactics. But the messages, of course, are not the same. It is clear one side has the moral high ground, even if they do raise money in the gutter, and the other is an oozing sore of corruption, greed, maliciousness and policy misanthropy that makes it irrefutable it values money over people every time.
My New Mexican pride was bursting last week when Governor Lujan Grisham was interviewed by Christine Amanpour on PBS. Our governor took on the Trump wall, which will be largely in New Mexico, calling our state an “Ellis Island,” decrying the use of National Guard troops at the border and the White House raiding other federal projects for money to build the wall on the pretext of a “national emergency.” And she was emphatic about climate change, renewable energy and the imperative of a clean environment. It was a knowledgeable, articulate, agile performance. No punches pulled and many haymakers landed.
And the cold civil war was more starkly evident than ever. In New Mexico, the side I’m on won a total victory in the last election. And that’s what’s called for. With no civility, no measured compromise, no mutual sympathies, no give, no give and take total electoral victory is all that works. In situations like this, you either choose sides or are already on one. There’s no room for fence-sitting or allowing perfection to kill off the good enough. And there’s certainly no place for opting out. Of course, it is always mandatory to be alertly critical and outspoken. It’s especially important if it means taking your own side to task to sharpen a winning strategy. But in civil wars, hot or cold, the nastiness catches up to everyone, even if it only involves breaking off friendships because of politics alone.
It’s the money-raising pitches, I think, that reveal the nature of the extreme polarization of politics that have created in our country a cold civil war, aimed at the total defeat of “the other.” From my perspective, I would have to say this was all started by Republican dirty tricksters from PR agencies in the 1970s, when ad hominem attacks, “fake news,” agent provocateurs, burglars and political crooks of all kinds turned political debates into jousting with swizzle sticks and a drunken mania for scourging enemies on the list. It may even have started with McCarthyism when the cold civil war was just attaching to the real Cold War, prodding and befuddling both political parties to take after any leftist they could find, of all stripes and affiliations, stereotyping them all as “communists” similar to what the “radical right” now calls “liberals” (read “socialists,” read “pinkos.”)
Whatever the genesis is, the money ads of both parties have internalized the art of what Noam Chomsky has called the “manufacture of consent,” using any ruse they can to gull people into buying something they do not need, or voting for someone because he/she/it is running against someone else they do not like.
How many email solicitations begin with “Mueller fired,” or “Kavanaugh sabotaged”? The bad trick here is that advertisements soliciting funds often use standard practices of what used to be called “yellow journalism” — highlighting misleading and inflammatory headlines that make it hard for even the most cynical to resist — unless, of course, you’ve seen it a hundred times in a hundred emails and know it’s all crapola.
In his book “Manufacturing Consent,” Noam Chomsky and his co-author Edward S. Herman write “[T]he democratic postulate is that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived.…If, however, the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to decide what the general populous is allowed to see, hear, and think about, and to ‘manage’ public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds with reality.”
Money pitches “manage” a message, and abuse a “system,” for maximum shock value. While the cold civil war reverberates subtly throughout our entire culture as a dissonance of values and beliefs, we can see it most graphically when voters are treated as consumers swindled by grifters in ad agencies and political PACs into spending money they don’t have to support issues and defeat enemies who literally can’t be identified because the pitch for funds itself is “at serious odds with reality.”
The cold civil war, though, is very real. Let’s pray it stays cold and never heats up. Armed bullies and “supremacists” of all ilks appear not to have morphed into “death squads” and paramilitary murderers just yet. As much as I hate to admit it, the Second Amendment has created such a vast gun culture in America that political violence almost equates to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) for both sides. Because, of course, there is no ideological monopoly on weapons, or on the will to use them. And whoever starts a hot civil war will trigger a lethal karma.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it