One of love, one of hate - can America find its way?
My life has been bookended by two revolutions. The first was the ’60s, which I still don’t fully grok even though I lived through it. The ’60s echo through our culture like a plucked guitar string reverberating thru the decades: civil rights; Vietnam; women’s rights; birth control; the environment; gay rights; and drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll, just to name a few. While these movements were planted in the ’50s and even before, they blossomed in the ’60s, and their continued growth still impacts our world nearly 60 years later. Social turmoil rooted in the ’60s has changed us in countless ways and, for the most part, it’s been a change for the better.
The second revolution we are living in now: namely, the anti-government protests that have rocked our nation. A dizzying array of groups have coalesced to form this witch’s brew. They include: white supremacists (and all their subsets, neo Nazis, Proud Boys etc.); white Christian nationalists; anti-immigration xenophobes; anti-Muslims; anti-Semites; the gun lobby; rural Americans; and the list goes on. What draws them together is fear – and their biggest fear is change. President Trump, while being the worst president ever, may be the best con man the world has ever seen. He convinced these disparate groups that he had their interests at heart. He rode them and a caving G.O.P. to an election in which he lost the popular vote. Of course, Trump’s real agenda was to aggrandize power and wealth and promote his bigotry. Any good he may have done his base along the way was purely incidental. Trump is gone, but under his watch hate bloomed like some malignant flower. Hate’s agenda is to replace conservatism. Hate’s name: QAnon, with a tent big enough to contain all the Right Wing fear in America.
The ’60s confronted an entrenched, privileged, chauvinistic, consumer-based society. The status quo in the middle of the 20th century excluded many and ignored pressing social issues. Anti-establishment protesters envisioned a world that embraced the fringes of society. Their demands were often confrontational, even hotheaded. But they were not made at gun point. The ’60s demanded change that was inclusive, that raised people up, that embraced a family of man. The ’60s were a call for a brighter future.
Today’s revolution demands violent armed insurrection against our democracy. QAnon wants to exclude minorities, immigrants and liberals by any means necessary. QAnon’s goal is to deprive others of the very things they demand for themselves: freedom of speech, of assembly, of belief. The ’60s were not always The Summer of Love (1967, in case you’ve lost track.) There was much violence around Vietnam and civil rights. But at the decade’s core was the unassailable belief that a better future was a fundamental right of everyone. The ’60s revolution rejected injustice, intolerance and bigotry. QAnon embraces them. The ’60s envisioned a world that extended its privileges to all. QAnon would deny those privileges. The ’60s wanted to empower; QAnon to disenfranchise. The ’60s may not have been based on love, but it was based on hope. QAnon is based in fear and hate. QAnon’s biggest fear is not that change won’t happen. It is that change is happening
What does QAnon’s unholy alliance believe? For starters: the election was stolen; there is a deep state cabal of liberals controlling the world; the pandemic is a leftist conspiracy. These baseless claims are their more moderate beliefs. They also espouse that Trump is the Messiah, and that Democrats practice pedophilia, cannibalism and Satan worship. And, most disturbingly, that some golden past age was stolen from them and they have the right and duty to take it back by force.
The underlying principle here is the First Amendment. QAnon insists its views are guaranteed under free speech. Invoking this fundamental right of democracy while simultaneously trying to destroy it is perfectly reasonable in the QAnon world of disconnects. Spouting inanities about stolen elections and deep state conspiracies is permitted as free speech. Under the First Amendment, opinions are protected. However, hate speech, death threats and advocating the overthrow of the government are not protected as free speech. Saying “Biden stole the election!” – though a lie – is protected. Saying “…shoot (Pelosi) in the friggin’ brain!” is not protected.
For months, Facebook and Twitter had been pressured to pull the accounts of those advocating violence and hate, notably Trump and QAnon. They resisted because they did not want to be seen as platforms catering to moderates or the Left. But on Jan. 6, when Trump incited his followers to attack the White House, they did ban his accounts. The violence and unrest collapsed. This is not to say the hate mongers have gone away. But it is a powerful demonstration of how much traction their viciousness gained through social media.
The ’60s relied on radio, TV and print to disseminate information. These establishment-owned outlets were often biased. Alternative papers and radio broadcasts sprang up. But their reach was limited. As the unpopularity of the Vietnam war and the fundamental righteousness of the Civil Rights Movement spread, mainstream media began giving the “hippies” more favorable coverage. Vietnam and civil rights soon grew to encompass down-ticket issues like the environment and women’s rights.
What if the ’60s had had the internet? Demand for so much change at such a fundamental level would likely have splintered into self-involved groups promoting their own agendas. Information would have been biased and scattered just as today. The traditional media, undermined by disinformation everywhere, would not have had the power to sway Middle America. Had the internet existed 60 years ago, America would not be what it is today, it might not even have made it to 2021.
The culture of violence is silenced for now. It has not gone away. Do we allow fear and hate to destroy us? Or do we stand and say no? This is a road America must not go down.
– john van becay