History Lessons

I’m seeing a lot of history lessons floating around these days.

Now, I’ll never say no to history. I majored in it. And if the lessons of the past make us vigilant, active, and empathetic, then open the hose and let us soak, I say.

But I have two caveats. One, you have to remember the whole story. And two, you have to remember that history isn’t destiny — either that the things you like are doomed, or they’re certain of victory.

Here’s a history lesson for you all — ever heard of the John Birch Society? No? Sit round the fire. The John Birch Society was a group of letter-writing god-botherers in the 1960s that convinced a lot of otherwise decent people that the civil rights movement was a communist plot. Because they weren’t protesting the right way, and they were too angry, and if we started listening to arguments against colored water fountains what would be next? I’ll tell you what; the destruction of capitalism itself.

I doubt you’ll find yourself very surprised that it was founded by Fred Koch — the dad of the Koch brothers we all know and loathe, and who have been involved in a 60-year multigenerational family project to unite rich people for the purpose of destabilizing civic institutions. They figured out a long time ago the best way to do that was to inflame the existing racial and cultural grievance of the rural white poor, isolate them from social services (beginning with homeschooling, all the way down to movements like the sovereign citizens and opposition to socialized medicine) and use their networked loyalty to buy the Republican party. The point, as it always is, is profit — the Kochs’ money is in oil, and they now have an entire government of oil cronies linked with the global, undemocratic oil hegemony led by Russia.

This is a lot closer, and I think WAY more valuable parallel, than trying to tie every photo-op executive order to the night of the long knives.

What worked against the John Birch Society? (Full disclosure, I think they still exist, but so does Lyndon Larouche. I mean what worked against them as a politically relevant entity). A couple things. One, they overplayed their hand. It was a lot easier to see the humanity in a scared little girl trying to go to school surrounded by National Guardsmen than it was to see a creeping Communist menace.

Two, they were small, and they still are. It’s hard for a lot of liberal people, I think, to believe that some people are, for lack of a better word, evil. I don’t know what evil is — I’m an atheist, so I don’t think it’s from a supernatural source — but there’s some combination of hate, fear, and ego that burrows into some people like a parasite and can’t be dislodged. You can argue nature or nurture, I have no dog in that fight. But it’s there… and here’s the secret, it’s RARE. Far more people go along to get along than are active participants in any movement, evil or not.

But for most other people, there’s a point where ideologies make too big an ask for the vast majority of people to say okay to. You look around, start checking to see if other people think this is fucked up too. Sometimes, if a movement led by evil people has captured enough civic and military power to frighten you into submission, you stay quiet and stay safe. Certainly that was true in Nazi Germany and it’s true in a lot of other dictatorships. It’s not true here. I WISH I could be a fly on the wall the first time Trump tries to tell the joint chiefs he’s going to mobilize the army against a political opponent. That will be PRICELESS.

And three, and here’s the key — the empathetic majority got off their butts. Because if Fred Koch hadn’t seen the wind blowing against segregation and toward corporate regulation, he’d never have been motivated to start the John Birch Society. Rearguard actions only happen when you’re retreating.

We have a lot to do. But these anti-democratic, regressive assholes have thrown the dice because they’re scared. We are their nightmare. Let’s go be scary.