Glenn Beck is riding on a sentiment that has served right-wingers in many countries: the humiliation caused by ignorance.
Remember the wonderful character in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, USAF General Jack D. Ripper? Ripper initiates WWIII because of his fear that the communists are about to contaminate good Americans' 'precious bodily fluids'. Well: Ripper is back, with a vengeance. Fortunately he doesn't command nuclear-armed B 52 bombers; he just has one of the most widely watched TV programs in America.
Glenn Beck is telling America that there is a man about to bring down the world's only Superpower, to undermine the United States of America. He will topple it, as he has toppled currencies and governments in the past. He is the puppet master who pulls all the strings. It is the foreign-born Jew, George Soros.
Whether knowingly or not, Beck resorts of the classic combination right-wing leaders have made use of throughout the twentieth century: throw Jews and Bolsheviks into the same pot; create an enemy that is ubiquitous and yet difficult to apprehend. If the Freemasons were still a fashionable threat, Beck would probably throw them in as well.
Beck's claims veer between the ugly (Soros is really an anti-Semite who cooperated with the Nazis) and the incoherent: after showing a number of instances in which Soros was indeed active in undermining communist regimes through his Open Democracy network, Beck concludes that this is proof that Soros is now trying to undermine the US. Could it be that he missed the simple facts that Soros indeed tries to undermine autocratic regimes, and that his network is called 'Open Society Network'? Or is Beck so busy trying to paint Soros as a dangerous alien that he just counts on his viewer's ignorance about the difference between fighting for democracy and 'undermining regimes' in general?
Beck's targeting of Soros, whether knowingly or not, feeds on the most common tropes of anti-Semitism since the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious anti-Semitic forgery from the beginning of the twentieth century. The Protocols depict Jews as a cosmopolitan network that controls the world; they don't really belong anywhere, and that's why they try to control the world by manipulating it. With an elegant sleight of hand, Beck avoids the anti-Semitism charge by standing it on its head, and accusing Soros of being an anti-Semite who stole Jewish property in WWII. Again, the question is whether this is a devilish sleight of hand, or whether Beck doesn't see what he's doing.
Beck is riding on a sentiment that has served right-wingers in many countries: the humiliation caused by ignorance. There are indeed many, and not only in the US, who feel humiliated by the vast systemic forces that threaten their jobs and livelihood. They don't quite understand what went wrong; they don't really know what needs to be done. They only know that events are way beyond their understanding. This leads to sheer, seething resentment, and a narrow-mindedness bordering on Paranoia.
A threat that is not really understood is difficult to bear, and one of the most effective mechanisms of dealing with such free-floating anxiety is to channel them into conspiracy theories. There is an enemy out there, cunning, all-knowing who is out to get us; to take away our homes, our country and our precious bodily fluids.
This enemy should preferably be cosmopolitan; because obviously cosmopolitan people know more than others, and are therefore capable of manipulating us all. Worse: they have infiltrated us, and they are here as a fifth column. We must hold on to our homes. We need to reclaim America for Americans (France for the French; Germany for the Germans; and nowadays, Israel for the Jews).
Of course Americans have very good reasons to be concerned about the economy.
And they are taking it out on Barack Hussein Obama, even though he has averted a total meltdown of the economy and probably saved American capitalism. "He's is really a socialist. He's un-American; he's not American at all; he's foreign-born; he's really a Muslim."
Underlying this is what even the Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck don't really feel comfortable saying: he's black. And to top it, he has the chutzpah of being Harvard educated. He's not one of ours, and hence he should not claim, as he does, that he is really the embodiment of the American dream. Like Soros, Obama is a foreign element. He's too cosmopolitan; he's too rationalist; he's too cool. He doesn't remind many Americans of themselves. They feel governed by an outsider.
It must be emphasized, once again, that there is nothing original, and nothing particularly American about Beck's tactics. Jean-Marie le Pen has made a long-standing political career for himself feeding on xenophobia in France; the late Joerg Haider did very well in Austria riding on the same sentiment; and Israel currently has Avigdor Lieberman, who is amassing political power by fanning hatred of Israel's Arab citizens.
Watching the sad spectacle of Beck's defamation of Soros, and the even sadder spectacle of US voters venting their frustration on a cosmopolitan, African-American President who may have saved their economy, it is difficult to avoid pessimism about human nature. The xenophobia that we have inherited from our biological ancestors seems immensely more powerful than our ability to assess reality rationally and to act in our own long-term interests.
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