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Explaining Our Days of Rage


When World War II ended, there was a general consensus in this country about how to achieve the things we needed as a country. I’m not going to get into the details or the evidence of this, but a lot of good things happened in the post-war years because of that general consensus.

Sure, there were still extremists on both sides of the political debate, but they were relatively small in number and didn’t gain much traction except on the fringes. For some time, those extremists when they made their way into Congress were referred to as backbenchers. They sat in the back rows of Congress and lobbed verbal bombs every now and then. But for the most part, they never gained any real power. They just made a lot of noise, while those in charge of the consensus engaged in political warfare but made peace regularly to pursue the logical outcomes of the general consensus.

That consensus was promoted by politicians (most of them, anyway), mass media (most of it anyway), academicians (most of them anyway), and most Americans bought into the consensus, while agreeing to disagree on some issues along the way.

I’m not suggesting that all was perfect in those post-war years and that extremists didn’t occasionally gain a larger voice. Barry Goldwater, for instance, gained the Republican nomination for President in 1964 and famously stated that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Dems also had occasional extremists pop up every now and then.

But the general consensus created by the establishment was a pretty powerful thing. I’m not suggeseting that the establishment was necessarily right in its consensus. There are plenty of things the establishment got wrong, but still, there wasn’t the bitter divide then that exists now.

So, how did this come to be?

I’ve been reading Kevin Drum for years. He’s a liberal blogger who has an occasional moderate and sometimes even conservative perspective that comes out. He cannot be viewed as strictly a radical, extreme progressive. He wrote at Washington Monthly for a time, then at Mother Jones, and now at his own WordPress-enabled website … jabberwocking.com

For some time now, he has been pushing the idea that Fox News is the biggest cause of the political divide, the right-wing conspiraces, and the never-ending rage that exists in this country today. Sometimes, I think he overstates the case, but this post does a good job of presenting a data-driven explanation for his opinion. Read it and make sure to look at the graph at the end of the post. There certainly is a correlation, but as smart people say, correlation does not equal causation.

That said, there are those who think Reagan started all of this. I reject that notion because what is happening now couldn’t have been caused by a politician.

No, it’s a combination of things. There was a time after Reagan was elected when some right-wing voices of extremism entered the mainstream. Sadly, to say, the guy with the biggest megaphone and biggest impact on this element of the division was created in my hometown. Rush Limbaugh had a morning talk show on a local radio station in the 80s. He took that show and went national and spread his own brand of toxic misinformation to millions of listeners across the country. Dittoheads galore!!!

I think one can draw a line directly from Limbaugh to Gingrich and the GOP revolution of the mid-90s, where the back benchers took charge and started to grind down on that general consensus that had informed American life and politics in the post-war years.

And then, in 1996, Fox News came along — a cable news channel owned by an Australian designed specifically to appeal to a conservative audience. Unlike other news channels and media organizations that, at that time, aimed to push the consensus and appeal to Americans, Fox had a politically-driven motive that has been clear from the beginning.

But … if all Limbaugh had was a radio show and all Fox had was a cable outlet, we still might not be here, in our permanent days of rage.

Add the toxicity of Limbaugh, Fox, and their compatriots in toxic, right-wing misinformation, to a world in which social media provides amplification and magnification never before seen in our human existence, and it simply isn’t possible for a general consensus to exist anymore. Every lie, every piece of propaganda, every intentional effort to mislead and misinform … every single one is multiplied and sent out into the world to fester and create rage. In a world where everybody has a megaphone, everybody gets to be angry.

And, as I’ve written about before, the sad thing is that our leaders are letting it happen. By that, I don’t mean that I think government should shut down or censor social media or the news media. No, what I’m referring to is that our leaders are playing into the rage rather than trying to quell it. The backbenchers are no longer just throwing occasional bombs that most people can ignore. Nope. The backbenchers are firmly in control of both major political parties. It’s a shame.

Regardless of whether one believes in the consensus of the establishment in the post-war years, it was a far more functional, successful system than what we have now.

14 responses to “Explaining Our Days of Rage

  1. pinklightsabre January 16, 2022 at 12:35 pm

    Nice piece Mark, thank you. Woo boy, rough news week. I consumed it all in one dose this morning then had to walk for a while in the woods to balance out those bad feelings with some natural tonic. Thanks for sharing this well-thought POV and linking over to that other writer. The anger, social media, monetization of both, lack of leadership, lizard brain, and erratic behavior of a dying political party make for a shit burrito we’ve all got on our shirts now. Here, anyways. Then there’s Putin! Ha ha ha! Another long walk.

  2. Kevin Brennan January 16, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    I think you mean “presenting” a data-driven explanation, not preventing, right?

    This is a great outline of what’s gone wrong over the past thirty years or so, especially in the way social media has created alternative realities for partisans.

    I bet you won’t be surprised to hear that I disagree with the idea that “backbenchers are firmly in control of both parties.” The Dem party is and has always been moderate, even if some progressive voices grab the megaphone from time to time. Look at the 2020 nominee; it wasn’t Bernie Sanders!

  3. Anonymole January 16, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    Corptocracy still runs the show. All leaders lean in to the money. That jackass from West Virginia is a classic example. Pretend to be a moderate and vote conservative every time — getting paid for every vote. The only hope we have is if the Corps realize that they can’t sell shit to the poor if the poor are poor. Capitalism must change and the capitalists must change it. That and the fact that a stupid populace is counter productive to corporate profits. Teach the people critical thinking skills — and then make products and provide services that thinking people will embrace.

    • kingmidget January 16, 2022 at 6:57 pm

      Part of the “general consensus” I referred to was that corporations treated and compensated their employees better because they realized they needed a strong middle class to consume their products. That concept, unfortunately, has gone the way of the dodo bird in an age of quarterly earnings reports that drive corporate decision-making.

  4. John W. Howell January 17, 2022 at 8:57 am

    An excellent post, Mark. The worst part of this mess is the “I’m right” attitude on both sides of the aisle is reflected in the population. I see bloggers and commentators assigning accountability all over the place when in reality, responsibility rests with all of us.

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