SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 17, 2010

Crackpots & Nutjobs

 

Before I begin, let me just say that I can tell already that this is another one of those columns that’s going to be misinterpreted by half-wits. But you know, with each passing day I find I’m less and less concerned with how the things I say will be interpreted by half-wits.

Now, once upon a time there was a small group of angry people who were fed up with the way their country was being run. The economy was in ruins and across the land citizen morale was at an all-time low. If their nation was to regain its lost pride and restore its former glory, they agreed, the people needed to return to their founding principles.

            Well, they started holding meetings and public rallies to help spread the word. They found a charismatic spokesperson who gained attention for mesmerizing speeches that spoke directly to the people, outlining the revolutionary changes ahead. They did everything by the book or at least as much as any other political party, yet they were dismissed by the intelligentsia and the political establishment as nothing more than a ragtag bunch of crackpot idiots who were delusional to believe they could challenge the status quo.

            People in power are never in the least interested in relinquishing that power, so when they find themselves confronted with a threat to their position (be it an individual, a group, or an idea), standard operating procedure is to immediately discredit that threat. Easiest way to do that is to adamantly ignore the threat in question. If that doesn’t work, spread the idea that the threat is koo-koo bananas. Sometimes it’s justified, and sometimes it works.

Even when the crackpots won a little local election here and another local election there, the people in power (both the politicians and the media) dismissed them, convinced they would simply fade away.

            But they didn’t go away. With each tiny victory, they gained more followers. It turns out, much to the intelligentsia’s horror, these angry crackpot thugs were addressing the concerns and fears of the people in a way the establishment wasn’t.

So am I talking about the National Socialist German Worker’s Party in the late 1920s or the Tea Party movement that’s emerged in the States over the past couple of years? Either one, really. Doesn’t much matter.

At least in the case of the NSDAP we know what happened next. A few years later, the crackpots were in complete control. The economy was turning around, the Autobahn was being built, and the trains were running on time. The Germans were doing very well, the Jews, gypsies, communists, Slavs, and gays not so much. Then they started a big war, after which Germany was back where it started.

            Meanwhile smart people all over the world were asking, “How could this have happened?” To which I always answer the same way: Take a lesson from the bluebird, chump.

            Now, this is why I’m generally hesitant to write about anything that touches on the political. I don’t give a rat’s ass about politics. Political matters—the parties, the “issues,” the “stances”—are comically irrelevant to me. Yes, it’s nothing but theater, but it’s bad and tedious theater. Yet people have an unwholesome tendency to take it all very seriously, and when they do they have an even more unwholesome tendency to go all dull-witted (and, frankly, dull). In their dull-wittedness, the political types will read the opening paragraphs here and immediately conclude that I’m equating the Nazis and the Tea Party. That would be easy, wouldn’t it? You see it all the time in political campaigns—the first and cheapest tactic from someone with no imagination. Sadly for the people who would draw that conclusion, I’m doing nothing of the sort. All I’m pointing out is a vaguely interesting bit of historical mechanics—and how good ol’ George Santayana and Alphonse Karr have been proven right once again.

            I can’t listen to the news these days without being walloped by another story about that crazy Tea Party. It struck me from the beginning—from the time they were just a traveling caravan protesting the health care bill—that they’ve always been treated like the Klan, or some kind of inbred hillbilly picnic. They’re backwards, the news reports imply, they’re white trash racists, and everything they know comes from conservative talk radio. The fact that their candidates are now winning a seat here, a seat there is treated like some kind of shocking aberration. The establishment still seems convinced they will just go away—probably as soon as the beer runs out. Historically, this is perhaps not the best tack for the establishment to take.

            Personally, I find it all really, really funny. The wackier their candidates get, the more entertained I am. Even if I don’t agree with much of anything these people seem to stand for, I’m awfully glad they exist. When was the last time a grassroots movement supported not just one candidate but dozens, many of whom proved a viable threat to the powers that be? We’re supposed to be a country of not just third parties, but fourth, fifth, and twelfth parties as well. But somewhere along the line the masses found it easier to be hoodwinked into believing there were only two parties, and anybody claiming to be something else was a nutjob.

            Hell, in recent decades it’s gotten even worse than that—I can’t even tell those two acceptable parties apart, which I guess means we have a one-party system. And what does that make us?

            Not that any of it matters. But anything that poses a threat to the System is worthwhile on at least some level (even if it’s only “cheap yuks”).

Back to the point. As I have come to understand it, the Tea Party is made up of people who are pissed at what’s happened to the country (understandably) and who think the only way to restore its former glory is to return to certain core values (without getting into what they might mean by calling themselves “constitutionalists”). I’m not sure why that makes them nutjobs, but to listen to the news I guess it does.

            Here’s the thing. You dismiss them, you marginalize them, you call them nutjobs, you might be surprised to wake up one day to learn that there are an awful lot of nutjobs in this country who vote. Then where will you be, smart guy?

So no, I am in no way drawing any parallels between the ideals of the National Socialists and those of the Tea Party. At least the Nazis were considerate enough to provide a very clearly-stated twenty-point party program outlining everything they would eventually do. Unfortunately that was also ignored by the establishment at the time—otherwise things might’ve been a bit easier. If the Tea Party has a program outline, it might be wise to study it carefully before making too many decisions about them. The point is simply one I tried to make with my students last year: when you marginalize people, when you shove them off into the shadows, well, you don’t change their ideas. You don’t make those ideas go away. You simply allow them to go about their business while you ignore them. And you never know what they might come up with. Whatever it is, it’s usually something the establishment doesn’t much care for.

Remember, those fickle, mush-headed masses are always wrong, and will always fuck themselves. If they succeed in fucking the System along with themselves this time around, well then I believe I’ll just lean back and enjoy the show.

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.