So it is not like violence by union members in Michigan against pro-right-to-work activists came as any big surprise to me … or should have to any other sentient being. I mean, this comes after a couple of years of incidents involving members of the SEIU – better known as the Purple People Beaters – and Tea Party protesters going at it. Not that our gutless establishment press organs ever seemed to take notice … or as little notice as they can and still retain a few lingering shreds of credibility, while they remain prostrate and adoring the mighty figure of Ozymandius … sorry, Obama. And in pop-culture circles, historically unions seem to enjoy at least a token respect, for which I hold Hollywood responsible. Why the entertainment industry adores unions, as they are full of plucky, honest blue-collar laboring types, and if it weren’t for unions, why we would be working seven days a week, up to our knees in toxic sludge, owing our soul to the company store, and breaking rocks in the hot sun … oops, sorry, flashback there to about a million Phil Ochs pseudo-folk songs.
This sentimental fondness persists to this day, even though it would appear that most people in the here and how who have had any personal encounters with any sort of union, either public employee or the private sector do not seem to have been left with a good impression generally, either as a consumer, a customer, a worker, manager or business owner. I’d venture to guess that most of the public also do not have a terribly good opinion of the senior management cadre of unions like … say, the Teamsters. Theoretical good will towards the historical struggle for the rights of working men and women is balanced against a present-day monstrous, self-serving, and possibly criminal – or criminally incompetent reality.
Anyway – the kerfuffle in Michigan will resolve itself one way or the other. My own personal hope is for criminal prosecution, or a civil suit, but in this current atmosphere, I am not holding my breath. No, what concerns me about this is something a little deeper … the willingness to do violence against the ‘other’ and a perfect willingness to do it in public, before cameras, and apparently in the assurance that there will be no repercussions … ever. Shades of the brown shirts and black shirts of the twenties and thirties in Italy and Germany, energetically going after political opponents and even relatively uninvolved citizens … because it is perfectly OK to bash opponents over the head and beat them bloody. Why … oh, just because they deserve it, because they don’t agree enthusiastically with the prevailing and carefully-cultivated orthodoxy. And because they disagree, and because they have been effectively ‘othered’ or ‘monstered’ it is thus perfectly OK, even laudable to beat them up, shout them down at public speaking venues, harass their families, sneer at them on television, flame them on the internet, libel them in publications and movies, ‘swat’ them, and trash whatever area they might be using for a meeting place or headquarters, vandalize their motor vehicles and other property … all that and more is legitimate and acceptable.
I have noted this going on increasingly since 2004, and picking up steam in 2008, although certain elements have been in play for longer than that. I watched it happen close up when posting at Open Salon over the time that I was blogging there, although I tried to avoid the more fetid depths of political nutbaggery on offer. I had the disconcerting experience of being active in a local Tea Party from the earliest days of that movement, and then observing how easily and efficiently – and without any basis in fact at all – that the meme of Tea Partiers as racist-stupid-red-necked-reactionaries was perpetuated in the general public by a consortium of the mainstream press, on TV and among the commentariat. Now that vicious meme is embedded in a good segment of the public like an impacted wisdom tooth – even among people whom I would have thought might know better. It was frustrating and frightening to me, how thoroughly it took hold among the OSers and in the general public who had never, ever actually gone to a Tea Party meeting or rally – and just about all of it without a single element being true (at least in the case of the Tea Party I belonged to and the ones that I had direct knowlege of). Now and again I did try to point out the dangers of reducing people with whom one had political differences to a caricature and then metaphorically burning the caricature at a stake. That way leads eventually to burning real people at a stake, or consigning them to reeducation camps. I don’t know that I had any success in making this plain with any but the most thoughtful and philosophically-inclined.
And very likely it is too late to make this clear to those who are already ready, willing and eager to work out their frustrations by beating up on the ‘other’ – as has been demonstrated in Michigan this week.
(Cross-posted at www.ncobrief.com)