The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. --Henry L. Mencken
Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind the government by furnishing it with the exorbitant sums demanded. Yet in retrospect these disasters seem never quite to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.” --General Douglas MacArthur
A century ago, politicians got elected by warning us of the threat of thespianism and ever lurking heterosexualism. The danger of mopery was also much bruited.
Then when anarcho-syndicalism became the rage and desperate men started throwing bombs at kings and capitalists, our pols scared us with augurs of anarchy. When the Russians made a revolution in 1917, anxiety about anarchism was supplanted by the specter of Soviet socialism. In the thirties leftists warned us about fascism. Since conservative Americans were well-disposed towards this particular ideology, fear of it didn’t really catch on until we went to war with fascists in 1941.
After the war, communism crudesced as the consternation of choice, lasting the next half century. It was an amazing commercial success. Americans scarfed up any product that could even remotely be associated with anti-communism, from missiles that couldn’t fly to foreign puppet armies that couldn’t fight. When communism collapsed of its own brutal incompetence, we were left without what I call a pejorism for a few years.
9/11 added terrorism to our fright folio . It really didn’t make any sense since terrorism was not a country, an ideology or a movement, but merely a tactic as old as history. Since American public discourse has rarely been rational, making war on a trope wasn’t really a problem for us.
Then came the 2008 election in which word-wacky Reps threw the whole putrid pail of pejorisms at Barack Obama. He was, all at once, charged with being a terrorist, Islamist, Marxist, socialist, fascist, communist, and an atheist who had spent too much time in a Christian liberationist church when he wasn’t forging his birth certificate and conspiring with like-minded moperists to bring about the ruin of everything American in the cause of everything foreign and devilish. Not only that, he used a teleprompter and his wife occasionally bared her arms and nearly reignited the American Revolution by coming close to goosing the Queen of England. But hardly anyone was listening any longer.
To the yahoos’ dismay, it seems that isms are like replays of Gilligan’s Island or nostalgia for Kate Smith: they have run their course. Throw around the smear “socialist” and no one but a few Cold War crones have the foggiest. We have long since entered the age of Leno’s Jaywalkers when the ordinary man or woman in the street bubble their lips when asked who Washington, D.C. was named for.
Americans were never really comfortable with isms. Ignorant of ideology, they never really knew what they meant besides something nasty. Even our soldiers gave them up years ago. You notice that they now assign the simple rubric ”bad guys” to anyone anywhere they have been tasked to blow away.
Good Idea. It’s more in keeping with our character if we insult our adversaries as “bad guys," “jerks,” "A-holes" or, as Mencken might have said, “hebetudinous roperipes.”