Rope & Change: The Birth Of A Nation

Rope and Change
This blatantly racist image, found here*, reinvigorates for another generation the most potent and enduring symbol of American racism: The lynched Black Man.


Faced with a failing campaign to make the election a referendum on President Obama‘s handling of the economy (without bothering to offering any concrete policies of his own), the Romney Brain Trust has switched to an attack oriented strategy designed to keep the animal spirits of the Republican base base Republicans aroused.

The He’s a nice guy but he’s in over his head theme has been, to use Romnian phraseology, “retroactively retired.” Here’s how The New York times described the shift last Saturday:

“TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney is heading into his nominating convention with his advisers convinced he needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working-class voters and to persuade them that he is the best answer to their economic frustrations.”

Romney himself initiated the new strategy by tipping his toe into the birther cesspool that same day, making a ‘little joke’ about his own birth certificate:

“No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that I was born and raised.”

You could almost hear The Trumpster guffawing in delight as he vigorously patted himself on the back, accepting Romney’s implicit acknowledgment that he was right all along to keep the Birther issue percolating.

Much has been said about the overt and covert appeals to racism that the Rethugs have resorted to, now and in past campaigns. One need only go back as far as Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1976, with his Cadillac driving “welfare queen” from Chicago’s South Side— read black woman— to see the pattern. In 1988, Poppy Bush played the black rapist/brute stereotype card against Michael Dukakis in the infamous Willie Horton ad. During the 2000 GOP primary, Karl Rove launched a whisper campaign against John McCain alleging that he had fathered a black child out of wedlock.  And in the current campaign, a right wing billionaire’s plan to spend $10 million smearing President Obama over his pastoral relationship with the  Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was ditched at the last moment when The New York Times blew the whistle.

One expects occasional  displays of overt racism from rank and file Republicans, such as was reported by David Shuster from the GOP national convention in Tampa Tuesday where  “two attendees…were ejected after throwing nuts at a black CNN camerawoman and saying, “This is how we feed the animals.” But to see it infecting the very top echelons of the party, especially during presidential campaigns, is all the more disturbing.

Speaking of the GOP convention, it really should come as no surprise that its entire theme is built on a tripod of lies. The first is the “We Built THAT” canard, based on a single Obama utterance twisted out of all context in which the referent  “that” clearly applied to the subject in his previous sentence, i.e. the role government plays in providing the crucial infrastructure that makes private enterprise possible— roads, bridges, electrical power transmission, sewers, airports, police and fire protection, the internet, etc., etc. , and not to small business in general. Need we point out the irony that it was government that provided some $139 million to build the very convention center housing the present GOPer convention? Don’t expect any acknowledgment of that rather inconvenient truth.

The second lie concerns Paul Ryan‘s mercurial plans for Medicare, which initially called for privatizing it, and then for “saving”it through an ill-defined voucher/coupon scheme. If the Rovians can succeed in portraying Ryan and the Republicans as the saviors of Medicare when they have historically been its most vociferous foes then we will have surely fallen into an Orwellian universe where up is down and war is peace.

But it is the third lie that concerns us here: the proven lie that Obama is gutting the Clinton era welfare to work program.  As the Rovian narrative goes, all those lazy, shiftless unemployed, disabled, and disadvantaged individuals and families owe their unworthy existence to the safety net of government assistance programs. In the social Darwinist world of Ryan/Randian economics, we need no longer endure these demon spawn of Reagan’s universally despised black welfare queen. For them, it’s sink or swim. After all, why should hard working middle class taxpayers be forced to foot the bill for the greatest inequity in societal wealth since the last Gilded Age? Meanwhile, their uber rich political compatriots are living large off their tax free foreign accounts, at a level that would make the Robber Barons of yesteryear blush.

The GOP propaganda meisters are well aware that cultivating a sense of resentment and victimhood among the working class is much easier to accomplish during the kind of hard economic times that prevail today (brought to you courtesy of the previous Republican dominated government that took a Clinton government surplus and turned it into a crushing trillion dollar deficit). The fact that blue collar white men are an essential GOP constituency explains their dogged determination to press the work to welfare lie, despite it being debunked by every neutral fact checker out there, including the Republican co-author [Ron Haskins] of the original bill.

Other current racist stereotypes include the characterization of Obama as “exotic” and “foreign,” an “anti-colonialist” obsessed with importing and imposing “European style socialism” on independent, freedom loving Americans. Obama’s nefarious goal?  To secure even more dole dependent minority voters who can be expected to vote uncritically for the Democratic Party.

Then there’s The Angry Black Man stereotype, enshrined in the title of right winger Dinsesh D’Souza‘s 2010 book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  Perhaps the most twisted slur of all is the charge that Obama is the real racist, a meme begun by Glenn Beck who characterized him as “a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.

All of which reminds me of the most prominent, racist film in movie history, D.W. Griffith‘s blockbuster 1915 silent film, The Birth of A Nation, hailed by many movie critics as the greatest film of all time. (To be fair, Griffith spent the rest of life apologizing for and trying to atone for  his naive racism after it was brought to his attention.)  One can find the roots of many contemporary GOP racist propaganda ploys in this meticulously crafted paen to American exceptionalism, which among other things, casts the Klu Klux Klan as the saviors of American virtue.

The Birth Of A Nation

Reminiscent of Obama’s mixed racial heritage, one of the film’s antagonists is an ambitious half-white, half-black politician by the name of  Silas Lynch. Scenes with contemporary resonance include those that embody social issues like mixed-race marriages; and political issues like voter suppression, but with a twist:

From WikiP:

“Stoneman and his mulatto protégé, Silas Lynch, go to South Carolina in 1871 to observe the situation first hand. Black soldiers parade through the streets. During the election, whites are turned away while blacks stuff the ballot boxes. Lynch is elected Lieutenant Governor. The newly-elected mostly-black legislature is shown at their desks, with one member taking off his shoe and putting his feet up, and others drinking liquor and feasting. They pass laws requiring white civilians to salute black officers and allowing mixed-race marriages.”

birth quote 2

And who is it that comes riding to the rescue, to take their country back, as modern Teabaggers would have it?  Why, those paragons of American Christian values, the Klu Klux Klan.  Heck, those shiftless, prototypical ACORN vote fraudsters never had a chance against their moral superiors.  But even with that battle won, the war continued:

Lynch orders a crackdown on the Klan. Dr. Cameron, Ben’s father, is arrested for having Ben’s Klan costume, a crime punishable by death. Ben and their faithful servants rescue him, and the Camerons flee. When their wagon breaks down, they make their way to a small hut, home to two former Union soldiers, who agree to hide them. As an intertitle states, “The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright.“..

BIRTH OF A NATION-quote 3

Roger Ebert picks up the tale from there, and makes a couple important historical notes:

Some of the film’s most objectionable scenes show the Ku Klux Klan riding to the rescue of a white family trapped in a cabin by sexually predatory blacks and their white manipulators. These scenes are credited with the revival of the popularity of the Klan, which was all but extinct when the movie appeared. Watching them today, we are appalled. But audiences in 1915 were witnessing the invention of intercutting in a chase scene. Nothing like it had ever been seen before: Parallel action building to a suspense climax. Do you think they were thinking about [white actors wearing] blackface? They were thrilled out of their minds.

First,  note that the original Klan had become “all but extinct.”  Griffith proved the power of narrative when it’s combined with graphic, quasi-historical, and emotional elements. Taken together, they are capable of resurrecting even the most ignored or repressed of racial memories.

Second, Griffith’s pioneering use of intercutting showed that the mind of the viewer can be manipulated through clever editing technique. In the Willie Horton commercial, e.g., the actor playing the murderer Horton is walking in a long line of fellow convicts leaving the prison (suggesting their return to a neighborhood near you) when in brief instant he looks menacingly into the camera, too fast to be seen by the conscious mind, but not fast to enough to escape its devastating imprint on the subconscious.

In contrast to the kind of overt GOP racism that MSNBC host Chris Hayes found himself apologizing for this week after saying, “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other,”  high-tech covert racism can be even more insidious. The fact that it can go undetected by individuals who are otherwise quick to pick up on standard GOP propaganda techniques, like their use of focus group tested, dog whistling racist language and subtext, means we should be paying as much attention to cognitive science and the subliminal power of narrative as we do to the GOP’s standard talking points, unabashed hypocrisy, and outright lies.

As for the sheer number of lies that have emanated from the Romney campaign to date, we may have passed a point of no return. Thanks to a generally uncritical establishment press that is so afraid of appearing partisan that they have made a virtue of “both sides do it” false equivalency, giving equal time to flat earther sociopaths has become the norm. ThinkProgess has a rundown on the dozens of lies and distortions that oozed out of Ryan and Company’s mouths yesterday alone.

Coupled with a gynormous amount of campaign contributions by power greedy billionaires made possible by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, it is now possible to buy enough air time to make The Big Lie an inescapable reality.

Forget about ending Medicare as we know it. The Rethugs are after bigger fish— ending democracy as we know it.

 

* We petitioned Photobucket to remove this image, which they did in January 2017.  We are leaving the image to bear witness to the hatred that spawned it; we believe it is important to see what hate does, even at the risk of it being used again by those who continue to hate.

4 Comments

    1. Propagandee Propagandee

      Yo Tengrain:

      Thanks for the bump.

      There’s a lot that sucks on this planet and racism is right up there. That the Rethugs are now so vociferously playing that card is a measure of their desperation. They know the demographics are rapidly turning against them, and probably see this election as their last chance at retaining their white majority status. (A Whopping 2% of the RNC convention delegates were black.)

      Anyone heard from Pat Buchanan since MSNBC canned his sorry racist ass?

    1. Propagandee Propagandee

      Yo Hip:

      Thanks for the kudos. I was concerned that the post might be too long. But racism is a multifaceted beast, and in today’s 24 hour news cycle, in the midst of a crucial election with one party playing the race card every way they can get away with, it deserves a larger treatment.

      People who thought that Obama’s election ushered in an era of “post-racial politics” were naive, to say the least.

Prove you're human: leave a comment.