Colson: An outside perspective sometimes helps |

Colson: An outside perspective sometimes helps

John Colson
Hit & run
John Colson
Courtesy photo

Sometimes, as I contemplate the rising cacophony of our nation’s political infighting, I find myself fatigued to the point of silence while staring at the screen and trying to shape a column about our times.

But then I get a little kick start from something I read in the news, which this week took the form of a couple of opinion pieces in The New York Times.

This week, the inspiration came first from a column by Michelle Goldberg, whose missives I have begun to anticipate and greatly appreciate over the past year or so.

In last Sunday’s Times, Goldberg penned a report on a new book by a war correspondent, Luke Mogelson of The New Yorker magazine, who has been covering what Goldberg described as “some of the world’s most harrowing and unlucky places, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Liberia.”

She noted that over the past decade or so, Mogelson “hadn’t spent more than a few months in his native country (the United States, that is),” until early in 2020, when he was “jarred by photos of armed lockdown protesters” enraged by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic-mitigation measures.

“The images of men in desert camo, flak jackets and ammo vests, carrying military-style carbines through American cities, portrayed a country I no longer recognized,” Mogelson wrote in his new book, “The Storm Is Here: An American Crucible,” as quoted by Goldberg.

So, Goldberg continued, Mogelson came back to his home court “to cover our political convulsions” and try to figure out what combination of circumstances has lead us to this internally quite violent moment in our history.

Both Mogelson and Goldberg proceeded, in their separate venues, to examine the question of whether this country truly is on the verge of civil war, as some believe and have written in published accounts.

I’ve been wondering about the same question for some time (and have mentioned my wonderment in this space more than once), but it took a review of our current dilemma by someone who has spent years steeped in war and war-like conditions in faraway lands to help me understand my feelings and the feelings of others.

While Mogelson, in his book, shied away from declaring that civil war is imminent, he did compare the bombastic fumings of the American far right to those he has witnessed in other countries, such as the rampaging and murderous exertions of ISIS, also known as the Islamic Caliphate.

One similarity between our far-right fringe and ISIS, he maintained, is a descent into paranoid delusional thinking, which he argued is part of a mindset in which citizens are increasingly fearful that “their government can’t protect them” from enemies inside and out. He views this as a “breakdown in confidence in sources of stability long taken for granted (meaning the government)” that has lead to “the kind of social fracturing” he has seen overseas and in this country.

But where conflicts in the Middle East are about what he termed “real injury and grievance” from despots, autocrats and tyrants, in the United States, “the right’s enemies tend to be either wild exaggerations or outright fantasies — Antifa super-soldiers, totalitarian globalists, satanic pedophiles.”

Not to mention outright lies told by power-hungry political extremists intent on overturning our nation’s rule of law and political architecture.

My own assessment, in partial agreement with Mogelson, is that we have become a fearful nation all along the political spectrum, though the fear on the right is galvanized by mounting rage at leftists, immigrants, sexual-identity confusion and, of course, anyone whose skin color cannot be labeled as “white.”

As I have noted before, our right-wing is dominated by white people deeply afraid that people of color may gain political power and start treating whites in the same way that black, brown, yellow and red people have been treated for centuries.

The fear, naturally, spawns the sense of rage, and our right-wingers certainly do love their rage.

I must note that I have not read Mogelson’s book, though I intend to do so immediately, and I may have more to say on his thinking at some later date.

Now, however, I’d like to point out another opinion piece in last Sunday’s NYT, by history professor Nicole Hemmer of Vanderbilt University, who argues that “Pat Buchanan Paved The Way for Trump,” as the headline proclaims.

Buchanan, as many will recall, was a vengeful, radical ideologue who rode to political prominence in the late 20th century on a campaign of white grievance, racism and what he saw as a need for a border wall, ditch or some other impediment to immigrants trying to sneak into the United States.

That’s right, Buchanan presaged Donald Trump’s wall by nearly 25 years. Additionally, Buchanan is credited with being the one who did the most to usher in the relatively new, vengeful and potentially violent version of “populist” conservatism that currently is roiling our national political debates.

I haven’t got time or space to go into Buchanan’s political machinations in depth, but I found Hemmer’s logic to be persuasive and right on the money regarding the man’s foundational role in getting this country into the divisions and difficulties we now face.

I offer this bit of history to help lighten at least one dark corner of our past, so that we may better understand our future.