Friday, September 3, 2010

Farce on Washington: Glenn Beck and the Assault on Historical Memory

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The following is a guest viewpoint by Tim Wise, an author, essayist and anti-racist. It is republished here with permission of the author. It was originally published on August 30th.

To be angry with Glenn Beck would be easy. So too, to conjure an ungenerous spirit of contempt for his acolytes who came from around the country to attend Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally this Saturday, would hardly take Herculean effort. His demented narcissism and their cult-like devotion to the man who once said he was just “a rodeo clown,” to whom one should hardly pay attention — but who now suggests he is on a mission from God to save America — are both worthy of the highest derision.
Yet, rather than anger or contempt — however deserved — it is sadness that animates my thoughts today. Sadness that so many would feel the country so besmirched by the first 19 months of the Obama Administration that they would take it upon themselves to march on Washington. Not for jobs or peace. But to restore some vaguely defined sense of national integrity, and, to hear Beck tell it, to “reclaim the civil rights movement.” As unsightly as it can be to witness any man’s ego explode with self-absorbed mendacity all over the pages of history — as we observed this weekend, what with the rally coinciding with the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” — it is especially so when that ego belongs to one as craven as Beck. That Beck thinks the civil rights movement needs “reclaiming,” and that so many others apparently agree, speaks to the miseducation of the American people (especially large numbers of white Americans), and it is this, which saddens.
For how could anyone take seriously the connection between Beck’s rally and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom? The latter was a direct challenge to the economic injustice of racism, and to a nation that had “bounced a check” to its black citizens. The former was led by a man who decries all talk of social justice, and having never apparently read a single word of Dr. King’s writings, suggests that the left has hijacked the movement’s legacy by speaking of such matters as were, in fact, central to its mission.
For Beck to insist, as he has, that the movement must be reclaimed, and that it is the job of conservatives to do it,because they “were the ones who did it in the first place,” is a historical perversion of such galaxial proportions as to call into question his very sanity. In truth, it is unlikely that any of the almost all-white throng gathered in Washington this weekend played any part in the civil rights struggle. Those at Beck’s event were people whose ideological forbears include the editors at the nation’s leading conservative magazine, The National Review, who supported segregation and excoriated King, or worse, the zombified denizens of the John Birch Society, and those like Beck’s personal hero, W. Cleon Skousen, who viewed the civil rights movement as a communist conspiracy to control the world.
Were King alive today, Glenn Beck would surely have found a prominent place for him on his chalkboard of demonic progressivism, what with King’s commitment to economic equality, and condemnation of the United States government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” And whereas King demanded a guaranteed minimum income for all as a hedge against poverty — and insisted that to ignore the needs of the poor was to invite “spiritual death” — Beck counsels us to worry not about the poverty of millions. After all, as he explained: “The poorest among us are still some of the richest in the world…The poorest among us have blessings beyond the wildest imagination of anyone that Mother Theresa visited.” So because there are others in the world with less than you, you who suffer here should stop complaining, speaketh the Good Reverend Beck. By which logic one could also have said — and many racists in those days did — that blacks in apartheid America should have stopped complaining and thanked their lucky stars they weren’t in the Belgian Congo under Leopold.
No Mr. Beck. You and yours have reclaimed nothing, for there was nothing awaiting your messianic rescue. Those who did the work of obtaining even the partially decent society in which we live today, did so with no help from those like the people who hung on your every word this weekend. And those of us who know the truth of the movement and this nation’s history — and of the descent into madness upon which some of our fellow citizens have lately embarked at your behest — will continue, as we long have, to struggle against the forces of reaction so well-represented and led by the likes of you. For your part, you will continue to race bait and to push buttons of white resentment, what with your claims that the president is only pushing health care reform as a way to obtain reparations for blacks at the expense of whites, and that his first name — or at least his insistence on using it, as opposed to some more “American-sounding” alternative — proves his lack of devotion to the country.

Devoted to Glenn Beck's prosperity
But it is you who lacks commitment to the valuable part of the national ideal. It is you whose slavish devotion to nostalgia — to the “good old days” of so-called “innocence,” long since lost — betrays your contempt for both history and millions of your co-countrymen and women. They remember how those good old days were days of terror and hellish oppression for the black and brown, of unchecked male domination of women, of the closet enforced on LGBT folks, of Christian hegemony at the expense of pluralism. Even today those structural injustices remain too strong, but in the days you revere and remember so fondly, they were not only present but were accepted as the very model of virtue. That is the tradition in whose shadow you stand. That is your dream, Mr. Beck: a nightmare for all who fail to live up to your white, middle class, straight and Christian ideal of what a “real American” looks like.
But we have other dreams to dream. Other dragons to slay than those at which you tilt: first and foremost, the historical amnesia you would today elevate to the level of a national sacrament. For while you were right to note that black folks don’t “own” Martin Luther King — actually no one owns anyone anymore, no thanks to the conservatives of the 19th century of course — make no mistake, it was the civil rights movement that produced him, the left that fought beside him, and it is we who will continue his work, work in which you have never played, and will never play, any part whatsoever.

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Linda P. said...

Excellent article, you really nailed the essence of Beck's paranoic ramblings. The only thing I would add is this ... Beck's apparent popularity actually is due to the fact that once he converted to LDS, he automatically gained a large group of followers among that faith (which is like a network that supports its fellow members). Want a fast track to success in business? Become a Morman.
If you have a couple of million people who buy every book you write, attend every event you host, listen to your broadcasts .. it makes you 'appear' to be a best-selling author, top-rated radio host, etc. It is the same relatively small group (maybe 3 million or 1 percent of US population) composed of (I would guess) 50% LDS and 50% others, mostly Christian.
These people are now screaming about how they must take back the country from evil Progressives who are trying to socialize everything. But .. suppose for a moment they could ... in a nano-second they would return to their comfy, cushy lifestyles & once again ignore the problems of the 'little people'.
Favor big business, let the rich get richer, and maybe it will 'trickle down' .. or not. Oh, well.
They had their chance, they did NOTHING to help elevate society or protect the planet. They have no answers, they are not searching for answers, all this is about protecting their own wealth, period.
I once heard a caller to Beck's show, several years ago when the economy was still 'booming' & during a period when gas prices had gone to nearly $5 a gallon. Beck was making fun of people who drive energy-efficient cars & a lady called in and said "I just filled up the tank in my SUV .. because I *can*!" And Beck giggled.
This to me epitomizes the arrogance of Beck & his clone-like followers.

The Glenn Beck Review said...

Linda, this is not my post, but I appreciate your feedback. Your analysis is right on the mark.

Stars Fan said...

Deride the man and ignore the message. How typical of the Left. With WHAT, exactly, do you disagree about Beck's message? Mr. Wise never said -- though his hatred for GB was evident, though.
Faith, Hope and Charity. Simple.
Beck urged Americans to turn to God, not his religion but each to his own -- and he brought out 270 clergy of all faiths; priests, imams, rabbis, and ministers linked arms and declared that they represented 180 million faithful. Are you atheist? No matter, you can participate in America's Third Great Awakening by reaching out and recognizing what is good about USA. We are basically a decent People. I met many on 8/28, including a pastor (Church of Christ) with whom I had much in common. We were vets and had similar views. He was black, by the way, and I'm white. It made no difference at all. He and his son spent several hours with me and they helped make the day memorable before we had to go our ways.
The US had not been perfect; there have been horrible transgressions. But we are still a beacon of Hope for millions overseas. I've been to Turkey, Korea, Germany. This is the greatest land -- because we are Free.
I am not Mormon; I'm Presbyterian. I seek the good in people and I do see good, as well as faults, in Beck. I read what others say about him but, like Mr. Wise, they do not dispute the substance of his ideas and presentations. They just attack the man. It's pointless, don't you think?
I'm sorry you are taking a small, petty and bitter view and cannot recognize his message which is simply we need to look to ourselves, to each other and to God for strength. The answers are not in government or our leaders but lie in a free American people -- God bless them.
Mr. Wise is the one with the incorrect historical viewpoint: He mentioned the 19th century "conservatives." As everyone knows, it was Lincoln who freed the slaves; he was a Republican, the party formed in 1857 as a result of anti-slavery movement. And, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957? The Democratic senators. Who eventually broke the Democratic filibuster of the next Civil Right Act in 1964? The 80% of Republicans. Do not presume the mantle of the civil rights movement; the conservatives in 1957 and 1964 were pushing the acts through Congress.
I'll pray for you and those who would strike out at earnest efforts to make America whole. Martin Luther King Jr. and Glenn Beck would not agree on much, but if they had met, after a few minutes, they would have stood together in a common cause -- the hope of Man for a better tomorrow. Mock Glenn and we who dream King's dream as well, but we are Right and you are pitiful.

The Glenn Beck Review said...

Stars fan,

Mr. Wise cannot reply here, but I'll just let you know that I'm working on another post that addresses this rally in dialog format with another blogger that Mr. Beck said really "got" his scheme...I mean rally.

I'll tell you this, the Republican Party, my Party, has drifted far away from Lincolnian Ideals. Lincoln was a radical for changing property rights in the South.

The conservatives were not pushing the Civil Rights act of 1964. That is nonsense.

Beck's backlash against this President, his 9-12ers, his utter divisiveness has done just the opposite of making this country whole. In a time of war, Mr. Beck has divided Americans more than they have been ever in my adult lifetime. In Lincoln's time that would have gotten him banished from publishing. Learn your history!

VekTor said...

As an atheist, I think I can sum up the root message that I take away from Glenn's 8/28 rally: Character matters, and we should rededicate ourselves to the source of our values.

That's it, really. He was trying to speak directly to those for whom God is their source of ethical values, and calling them to re-embrace the notions which had once been instilled in them: That we should be good, honest, charitable people. I fail to see why anyone of good will would seek to twist that into some kind of nefarious message.

He largely "left me out" by failing to include at least one strongly ethical secular leader up on the platform with him, and by not explicitly pointing out that even those for whom God is not the wellspring of moral values are allies in the cause of trying to all be better and more tolerant people.

This was not a divisive rally. It was an effort at establishing the importance of pluralism, and exhorting the faithful of all denominations and faiths to turn towards being better people.

That strikes me as a near-universally good message to offer. Is the personal distaste of Mr. "Wise" so strong that he cannot see this forest being offered because of the trees of animus he has planted around himself?

I look forward to the dialog-style exchange to which you alluded earlier.

The Glenn Beck Review said...

VekTor, if character matters, why does Glenn Beck lie? A lot? He lied in that speech after saying, "Our sacred honor. It means that you tell the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth."

How much "character" does a hypocrite have?

He's not going to have any secular leaders with him; he's leading American back toward its roots. What Beck doesn't seem to know is that during the period of the Revolution, less than 20% of Americans were church goers.

Also, where is the "pluralism" when he omits his opposition? He could have invited Rev. Sharpton, his friend, to speak there. There could have been one rally on 8/28 instead of two.

There were good things about the rally; I've pointed at the times that Beck has been right about something here in this blog. That doesn't make a broken clock a source of information that one wants to count on.

Harris put it best: "He says he’s a rodeo clown. They’re good entertainers, but not so much someone you want to follow." See:

VekTor said...

Shrug... I don't know of anyone who hasn't lied. If I were obsessed enough, I could probably pick any given person and (with enough intellectual dishonesty, spin and agenda) find things that I could use to justify a charge that they lie "a lot".

That's not how I'm wired. I can accept that Glenn can be a flawed human being and still realize that, while I don't agree with him on everything, and think he's flat-out wrong on some things, that doesn't mean that I have to engage in a personal scorched-earth campaign against him.

I can separate the wheat from the chaff, and find the points where we have agreement.

As to pluralism, I think you have a different notion of it than I do. Pluralism calls on us to TOLERATE the existence and rights of others, rather than calling for us to embrace those against whom we largely stand in opposition.

Pluralism tells us that we shouldn't try to hound out of the public square those with whom we disagree... even if that level of disagreement rises to the level of personal revulsion. We shouldn't seek to use government as a bludgeon to silence the speech or non-interfering actions of others when our own moral choices are radically different. We should instead live and let live.

As Jefferson said in "Notes on the State of Virginia":

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as they are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

I believe this is the spirit of pluralism that Glenn, in his own flawed way, was trying to reinforce during the rally by bringing up such a variety of clergy from so many faiths... to push back against the notion that some on the far-right have that we must have a uniformity of belief before our country can move towards a more perfect union.

That's a dangerous trend, and one that I'm glad to see Glenn opposing. I would hope that you would, too. This insane Florida preacher who wants to hold an International Burn a Koran Day is a prime example.

Pluralism tells us that we need to tolerate his existence, and not outlaw his outrageous and inciteful behavior. But it doesn't tell us that we have to embrace him or invite him to attend a rally that we might hold.

Likewise, I find it rather silly to assume that if Glenn didn't invite Sharpton to the 8/28 rally to be on stage in that demonstration, that this is some kind of prima facie evidence that Glenn doesn't really support pluralism.

Pluralism is tolerance, not the embracing of those you find repugnant. World of difference.

The Glenn Beck Review said...

I don't think Beck exhibits much tolerance on his show.

I'd argue that Beck could have had a unifying kind of event by inviting NAN to join him.

Much of his event was diametrically opposed to what he's being doing on his show. He hasn't been moving toward a more perfect union; he's been extremely divisive.

Also, tolerance is IMPLIED in pluralism. One definition of pluralism is "a theory that views the power of employers as being balanced by the power of trade unions in industrial relations such that the interests of both sides can be catered for." Beck is all for the power of employers and against organized labor. Not much "pluralism" in his Fox show rhetoric.

As far as looking past his lies of that 8-28 speech, that might be a possibility if they were the exception to the rule, but Beck lies and deceives his followers a lot. It is the main reason that he was a hypocrite on 8-28, and it's the main reason that he's ALWAYS a hypocrite. Once he stops lying, I can go back to my life of rest, leisure and watching television again for more than just the news and political programming.

This Review could serve as a quality control service for Mr. Beck IF he had any intention of becoming an honest man. To date, that's not apparent.

VekTor said...

TGBR, did you by chance listen to the fellow who was filling in for Glenn today? He had an interesting message about tolerance, zealotry and religion.

Since he's not Glenn, I figure you might not have found him so objectionable.

The host brought up many interesting points which really got me thinking, and I'd be curious to hear your take on what he said.

Personally, one of the things that disturbs me the most about zealotry that I've personally encountered is the degree to which the zealot will employ self-deception and justification to continue their perseveration against what I call their "designated hate object". It's the same tendency that I've seen in spousal abusers, where they will use characteristics of their hate object to justify their own continued bad behavior.

"If only she'd stop disrespecting me, I wouldn't have to hit her."

Drivel like that. Self-justification that wraps a cocoon of excuse around themselves to avoid an honest self-examination.

What are your thoughts about that observation?

The Glenn Beck Review said...

VekTor, no. I have it on DVR, but I haven't watched much of the Glenn Beck show this week. I've been focused on "Glenn Beck's tree of 'revolution'" (just published) and generally kicked back some. This is a time consuming hobby that I take on after work, so I'm enjoying Beck's vacation.

I'm not sure what you're getting at. I'm not sure if Beck engages in any self-examination, honest or otherwise; but I don't know that. Does Beck employ self-deception? Again, I could only speculate. I often wonder if he believes half of the nonsense that comes out of his mouth. He sure conveys sincerity, but he's still a rodeo clown who has promoted himself to messenger of God. This turn has turned off some of his followers (the secular Libertarians) and turned on the people who put faith ahead of reason in their lives.

As time consuming and demanding as The Glenn Beck Review is, I'm having fun. That counts for something.

VekTor said...

Actually, I was talking about the radio show, not the TV show. It was the radio show stand-in host who offered the commentary.

The Glenn Beck Review said...

I've never listened to his radio show live. There's only so much Beck I can take, and I'd be listening on the road. Kind of hard to pause the audio or take notes while driving.

VekTor said...

Digital audio recorders exist, podcasts of previous shows exist, streaming audio exists, and applications to capture streaming audio also exist, even on a scheduled basis while unattended... allowing later review and rewind of radio programs.

If you seek to offer yourself up as some kind of "review" of Glenn Beck, I fail to see why you'd ignore the lion's share of what he does... and that's his daily radio show. I think he spends more time doing that than any other set of public activities... probably more than all of the rest put together!

Why ignore the lion's share of his interaction with the public?

On a side note, I'm exceedingly curious as to why it is that you think I've been "not exactly forthcoming" here, as you noted over on Chicago Boyz. What leads you to that conclusion?

Do you honestly think you "know where I'm coming from" based on what you've read from me so far? If so, I'd also be curious to see your assessment of "where" it is that you think I'm actually coming from.

More later...

The Glenn Beck Review said...

VekTor, I sometimes read the transcripts from his radio show that Beck publishes on his website. Frankly, it comes off as more like Morning Zoo than serious political discussion. Plus, keeping up with all of the deceit that Beck expresses on just one of his shows on Fox keeps me pretty busy. This is not a job; it's a hobby that consumes enough of my time.

As to where you're coming from, above you claim that "character matters," but you're all too willing to let Beck slide as a liar. (And no, it's not occasionally; Beck lies as a matter of routine.)

You wrote on Chicago Boyz, "We should set aside differences in type or style within the coalition so long as that fundamental principle of honesty is embraced...." Why do you turn a blind eye toward Beck's systematic deceptions?

You're also a stanch defender of the Tea Party:
"The Tea Party movement is about freedom and liberty, not about oppression. It is about bringing freedom to all of us, and that includes freedom from the oppression that too many in our government seek to impose upon us."

That tells me enough about where you're coming from.