Aug 19, 2010

By: Will Bunch
 

Over the last year, I traveled across the country seeking the sources of right-wing outrage and anger in the Obama era as I researched my new book -- The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama -- that will be published at the end of the month. What I discovered was fear -- some of it innate and much of it whipped up by high-def hucksters on TV and in talk radio and even in the corridors of political power in America. Much of that fear centered on one simple fact: That America is increasingly becoming a non-white-dominated country. While many Americans take no issue with that, the prospect of an America with an increasingly non-Caucasian face is a deeply disturbing one to millions of people -- people for whom a unified and traditional culture is a source of solidarity and comfort, even -- according to some sociologists -- a bulkhead of immortality.

In the mid-2000s, an anti-immigration frenzy took root across right-wing talk radio. It seemed largely a matter of entertainment and most likely changing the subject, since the George W. Bush presidency was at low ebb because of Iraq and Katrina. The increasingly paranoid conversation about the threat from brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people grew in a way that was completely disconnected from realities, that immigrants were growing the economy in places like Arizona and Nevada, that crime rates among immigrants were quite low, and that these arrivals were paying more in taxes than they received in services.

But the bottom line was that for many, reports that whites will be a minority of Americans by the year 2050 carried the shill ring of an alarm bell. But this concern about the submersion of a dominant white culture in America spiked prematurely in 2008 with the political rise of Obama. In researching the book, I spoke with many conservative voters who talked of their "discomfort" the first time they watched Obama speak on television, who said that in particular they were alarmed at the future president's use of the specific word "transformation." These voters were egged on by political "leaders" like vice presidential candidate Palin, who didn't just voice traditional policies differences with the Democrat but accused him of "palling around with terrorists."

It is no surprise that by mid-2009 I was hearing from the leader of the anti-Obama group the Delaware 9-12 Patriots that the 44th president of the United States "is absolutely not American" while his neighbors were screaming at town hall meetings: "I don't want this flag to change. I want my country back!" These rank-and-file citizens were often echoing what they heard in a 24/7 right-wing media bubble of ratings-driven irresponsibility -- outlandish neo-McCarthyite allegations that Obama had Commies and Maoists working in the West Wing, Glenn Beck's notorious claim that the president has "a deep-seated hatred of white people" and, perhaps more tellingly, of "white culture," and most recently radio's Rush Limbaugh's bizarre charge that Obama is probably the "best anti-American president the country's ever had."

 

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