COMMENT & OPINION:
A DIFFERENT SHADE OF PARANOID
by T.K. McNeil
Definition: “Xenophobia means having a PHOBIC ATTITUDE towards strangers or the unknown. It comes from the Greek words (xenos), meaning foreigner/stranger, and (phobos), meaning fear. This term is widely used to describe the fear of others, or dislike of foreigners, or people who are different to oneself.”
Fear –A Renewable Resource
Fear of the other is a primal reflex. From the early days of the species, mistrust of “outsiders” has been with us. Except at that time, ‘outside’ referred to the darkness outside the cave. Experts have indicated that the human species have since “evolved” from this early state of fear. But, like the tailbone, remnants of these origins remain to the modern-day.
Fear of the Bomb
In the 1940’s the fear of others was mobilized to fight Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. In terms of WWII and the Cold War that followed, that innate distrust of outsiders got kicked up a couple notches. . The American propaganda machine ginned up anti-communist rhetoric and kept hatred and fear of others morbidly alive. We of course were being prepped for the expected war against communism. But, OMG, this still hale and hearty Soviet Union showed very quickly that they too could build “the bomb.” And topping that, they could also fire a ballistic missile that would level Washington, D.C. along with Chicago, Seattle, and Denver as starters.
Before the Bomb
While the specter of mutually assured destruction certainly made things worse, fear of a Communist take-over goes back to the Russian Revolution. In fact, much of the anti-communist sentiment had its roots in the anti-union movement of the 1920’s. When teamsters and autoworkers fought to unionize, the Bolshevik’s were blamed. Typical manipulating of fear of others. Fear-mongers spinning increased union activity into an insidious Communist plot. Tapping into fear of others, as well as fear of new ideas has been a tool of politicians right or left since time immemorial. Intensifying hatred, so easy, so convenient, so useful. The drum beat of fear of others, is likely to go unchanged because it seems to work so well.
After the United States and the Soviets started their arms race, the threats were kicked up. At least in the United States. It is actually difficult to know what the Soviets were saying about America, there being few reliable sources of Russian translation from the time. Though we can assume it was likely not complimentary. We do have film of Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, at the UN, threatening the destruction of the United States. He slammed his shoe on the table and proclaimed he would bury America. So, it sounds like there were lots of theatrics for the Russian television audience as well as the American.
As mentioned earlier, a common term for the Soviet threat was the “Red Menace” (The soviet flag was a brilliant red with a worker’s hammer and sickle & star in its left hand corner), or the “Red Scare. Referring to the existential and political threat to America by the Soviet Union and its allies. Notably Cuba, 90 miles off the U.S. coast had been a thorn in the side of the United States since the Cuban Revolution, which led to the Fidel Castro regime. Castro was under the Russian sphere of influence. The Russians attempted to install a missile base on the island. It was at this time that John F. Kennedy blockaded Cuba. Tensions were at a precarious state. The “Red Menace” had never felt more threatening.
While the world got closer than most people realize to full nuclear war, there being several very close-calls over the years, it was actually the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who was largely responsible for maintaining the stalemate during the 1960’s. And despite what the fear-mongers might have tried to claim, the Soviet Union, despite having large numbers, had almost no money and poor infrastructure and could barely feed themselves, let alone invade the United States as theorized in 1980’s fantasy films like War Games and Red Dawn. Hollywood movies not actually being an accurate depiction of political reality.
New Face of Fear-Mongering
Is there something similar going on now? The nations and faces have changed but there are some startling similarities between the “Red Scare” and the “Red Menace” in the post war era, and what is happening now in the United States. President Donald J. Trump has created a crisis and now he is demanding we close the border. The threatened destruction may now be more diplomatic and economic, than nuclear, but the type of paranoia and rhetoric coming from Donald Trump has starting parallels to the Cold War.
More fear tactics. More fear of those different from our “tribe”. There is a new term being used to describe these people in desperate need who are presenting at the southern border. Those women and babies being tear gassed at the border are being described as “The Brown Menace.” The term emerged in 2015. The Urban dictionary definition is, “influx of immigrants from Mexico and South America here to take your jobs and bang your wives and daughters.” Stealing “American Jobs” and raping white women and girls. Hate speech fueling the perceived threat. Hate speech by the president of the United States. These immigrants are mostly families running from the atrocities of their home countries. Many in fact have family members all ready living in the United States.
The Other Side
The image of Mexicans, particularly from movies are poor, dirty, drug-dealers, or gang members. This cultural image feeds into the “Brown Menace” narrative, particularly as it is now being used by Donald Trump. Most particularly in his now infamous rants, “they’re rapists” “they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime” “they bring disease” “they’re animals.” Trump used such comments as a basis for his demand to build a wall between the two nations. Few, if any, of Trump’s statements are based on demonstrable facts. Just as few of the horror stories told about the Soviet Union and their infiltration plot were in any way true.
It was not only military invasion the fear-mongers worried and harangued about. During the “Red Scare” FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was famous for associating any sort of protest, or union activity, particularly union activity; with acts of communist subversion. Hoover’s actions gave Senator Joseph McCarthy the legitimacy he needed for the establishment of the House Un-American Activities Committee. The committee and the later hearings intention was to root out communists working within the U.S. government. This effort should not be confused or conflated with the “Blacklist” of suspected communists in the entertainment industry.
Although separate and not directly related, the two events occurred around the same time based on similar accusations and post-war paranoia. While there were a few Hollywood types with Socialist sympathies such as screenwriter James Trumbo and writer, journalist Ring Lardner, jr. When it came to Soviet operatives working within the United States government the numbers were much lower. Three to be exact. Out of thousands accused over the course McCarthy’s witch hunt an estimated 2,000 government employees lost their jobs as a result of communist accusations made against them. Never mind, that they were all later exonerated.
Enemies Among Us
President has nowhere near McCarthy’s level of acumen, or experience, yet has tried similar tactics. Not in terms of accusing members of the government of being Mexican spies. His fear mongering is a lot more blunt, ham-handedly accusing government employees, American by birth with Hispanic heritage of having a bias against America and in favor of Mexico. Perhaps most notoriously when he smeared Texas Senator Ted Cruz as a treasonous Cuban whose family was involved in the J.F.K. Assassination during the 2016 primary. And then his dismissal of federal judge Gonzalo Curiel is disturbing. Who, Trump was certain was biased against him in the class-action law-suit against Trump University, because “he’s a Mexican.” Over-looking that Judge Curiel was born in Indiana to naturalized Mexican parents.
A Different Shade of Paranoid
On the civilian front, there is now fear. Mentioned before, but now taking a much darker turn, if current immigration trends maintain constant, in the next 20 or so years Hispanics will outnumber whites in states like California. Such statistics kicking the replacement fears of certain white Americans into overdrive. Even if they had never really thought about it before. Clearly missing the key phrase. “If current trends remain constant.” This almost never happens. Particularly over a two decade period. A year is considered a long time in politics. Never mind 20. There is simply no way to know but history and experience point to such predictions not being correct.
Everything Old Is New Again
Despite the social progression of the past fifty years, there are some in the present day government, particularly the Republican Party, who have begun brushing up on their Cold War playbook and using much the same terminology and spin to vilify migrates that they did to stoke fear in the Soviet Empire in decades past. It is pretty straight forward, even for those born in the 21st century to comprehend.
The Nuclear Family
That damn bomb was duplicated in nuclear labs around the world, because of course, those “others” might want to cause harm to each of their countries. That quickly became a problem. The most recent nuclear weapon saber-rattling has come from North Korea. Other than that, the nuclear threat has been scaled back. But the fear of the “others” still exists. The Genie is out of the bottle and one after another new competitors have joined the nuclear family. The fear-tactics used, only intensifying the naturally occurring existential dread.
Prediction; more of the same.