The Perfect Dupes
What does Newt Gingrich’s crushing forty-percent-plus win in South Carolina’s Republican primary mean?
In order to answer that question, you have to ask another, more pointed one. How did he win? According to the Washington Post’s informal exit polling, he won by being mean. Faced with serious questions about his character and morality, in both his marriages and his pubic life, he exploded at his questioners, including moderator John King and rival Mitt Romney.
This junkyard-dog approach appeared to work for Newt. But what does it mean for South Carolina and much of the rest of the South?
Anger in politics is a dangerous thing. It motivated the worst self-inflicted political wounds in human history, the French and Russian Revolutions. Skillful demagogues rode it to overwhelming power and then turned on the people they claimed to represent and protect. Bloodshed, terror, misery and horror followed.
The Tea Party movement is but a pale reflection of these disastrous outbursts of popular anger. But its motive force is the same. People make all the wrong choices for themselves and their future. A clever demagogue directs their anger—which rightly should target themselves—outward, against scapegoats. The result is power for the demagogue and yet more suffering for the clueless dupes.
States like South Carolina have been dupes since the Civil War. They have followed the easy path of bossism and racism down into a sewer of poverty, ignorance, joblessness, helplessness, and obesity. It’s easy to misdirect their anger against a half-black President and a gay congressional leader (Barney Frank) because they have always hated outsiders and the different, even (especially) well-meaning ones. They don’t need help from outsiders, thank you, and haven’t since the destruction and capture of Charleston.
Like much of working America, South Carolinians should be angry at themselves. They have far too little education. They don’t pay much attention to politics, except when it mimics a soap opera. They drink and eat too much. They get too little exercise. They hate too much.
And so they are dupes for a simplistic ideology that redounds of “freedom” but self-evidently hasn’t worked for forty years and never will. They are like the Russian peasants who still believe that Communism will restore their nation’s greatness and make them rich and happy. If only . . . . If only . . . .
Politicians like Newt demonstrate spectacularly the two types of human intelligence: emotional and analytical. Like Newt, tyrants usually have lots of the first and little of the second. Like the psychopaths who have destroyed the global economy and still threaten to do it again, they also lack empathy and a sense of responsibility—what most of us ordinary folk call “morality.” How anyone could vote for Newt knowing what he has done to two of his wives, his House and the nation is nearly beyond comprehension.
But with his extraordinary emotional intelligence, Newt well understands the downtrodden, backward common people of our racist, bossist South. He figuratively rubbed the faces of two of his three wives in excrement. He is the only Speaker of the House ever to be formally censured for ethical violations. In the runup to the Crash of 2008, he played both sides of the fence, receiving hundreds of thousands in “consulting” fees from Freddie. Then, when the shit hit the fan, he blamed the whole mess on that gay guy, Barney Frank. His policies and programs continue to entrench Wall Street’s selfishness, isolation and raw economic power, which have oppressed South Carolina and most of the South for 150 years.
Yet his dupes don’t have a clue. Newt manipulates their anger like a street musician playing an accordion, and the monkeys jump to his tune.
Fortunately, South Carolina is one of our least populated, least powerful, most backward and ignorant states. In the larger scheme of things, the delusion of its population doesn’t matter much. All its duping and anger will do is split the vote against the President and insure his re-election.
But the South remains both a danger and an opportunity—in Chinese terms a perpetual crisis. In the wrong hands, of someone even worse then Newt, it could fall into something like German or Italian fascism. In the right hands, with education and skill, it might join the twenty-first century and play a key part in America’s renewal. But it will take a better, smarter and far more moral person than Newt to dupe it in the right direction.
The only real things that Newt can hope to accomplish are to destroy his party’s chances to unseat a vulnerable president, cause an ignominious loss, and perhaps (inadvertently) begin his party’s long overdue reformation.