A...[US-born Muslim] Army psychiatrist facing deployment to one of America’s war zones killed 12 people and wounded 31 others on Thursday in a shooting rampage with two handguns at the sprawling Fort Hood Army post in central Texas, military officials said.
As far as the Administration is concerned, along with most Americans, I'm sure any response will be measured (though I'm not sure how you can respond in terms of policy and action to something like this).
However, what of the Republican rump? There's something unworldly and narrow about this slice of American society, whose fears are voiced - and manipulated - by a clutch of media demagogues. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and their ilk make millions from orchestrating 'a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness', to borrow Orwell words. (This encapsulates Beck).
I think their critics over-emphasise the vindictiveness part of Orwell's pairing; fear is the more important because it's the wellspring. As Bertrand Russell observed, 'collective fear can stimulate the herd instinct, and tends to produce a ferocity towards those who are not regarded as members of the herd.'
Beck, etc. present themselves as members of an oppressed minority (here's today's whinge). They're not of course. But they give expression to people who feel as if they are. People who are scared, and who direct the consequent aggression outwards.
Now, there is obviously quite a bit to be scared about with regard to Islamist terrorism. God knows, living in London and regularly using public transport one could hardly be indifferent to it. But the fear found in the Republican rump seems particularly unreasonable and unbalanced. Dangerous too: it fuels what popular support there is for the unwise and extreme resort to torture under Bush-Cheney.
An insight into the nature of this fear is repeatedly provided by the controversy about where released Guantanamo detainees might be imprisoned. Today's outcry comes from the Herald, a South Carolina newspaper:
South Carolina politicians are rallying to prevent the federal government from sending suspected terrorists from the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston...
“It is dangerous to bring these terrorists onto U.S. soil and make targets out of our own communities,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
High-security prisons should be sufficient, one would have thought. Certainly, it doesn't seem to bother us or our neighbours having Pentonville Prison up the road, a home for terrorists of many different stripes over the years. But, anyway, aren't these the loudest declaimers of a full-blooded patriotism, of making a sacrifice for your country? Sarah Palin:
Are you doing--and are your intentions to do--all that you can to help secure these United States? And I think every elected official needs to ask themselves that.
The last eight years have seeded a fear - for some intermingled with guilt about feeling such fear - that is bearing the sourest, most misshapen fruit. This fear is perverting patriotism, turning it into a bitter, blinkered partisanship. It has grown, in some instances, into what can only be described as full-blown craziness:
Who is this America? Henry Fairlie witnessed it at the Republican's 1980 Convention, the one that chose Ronald Reagan as its candidate:
The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of ‘‘better dead than red’’; the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy.
The America of fear.
This America, then, has a history. But it's rarely felt this salient, at least in my own lifetime. The worst economy since the 1930s. Mass media demagoguery whipping up an already extant fear, distorting patriotism into partisanship and paranoia. Extreme acts such as torture accepted as a necessity, even embraced as a badge of pride. And then a Muslim American soldier frenziedly murders over a dozen of his fellows. This America is primed.
Henry Fairlie again:
It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within.
It's likely that nothing will come of these attitudes and these circumstances. But there's enough there to make one worry.
H/t: Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish made me aware of Henry Fairlie's American journalism. Before emigrating to the US he wrote for The Spectator, where he invented the idea of the Establishment.