How far to the right will the United States go? With
elections just around the corner, this will be the fifth wave of a move to the
far right that the U.S. has taken since I came of age in the 1960s and cut my
teeth as an activist during the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era.
Before the antiwar movement from the 1960s and early 1970s
had moved the country out of that quagmire, a reaction from the right had
already begun and continues in the last skirmishes of the culture wars today. The
antiwar movement was cast in negative terms by the right. It was reinvented in
people�s minds as a primarily violent movement that sought to endanger ordinary
people on the domestic front. Of course, nothing could be farther from the
truth, as the vast majority of the antiwar movement was quite peaceful and took
the principles of both Gandhi and King to heart.
Additionally, the issue of the antiwar movement as being anti-soldier
has lingered on since the Vietnam era. Here there was some truth, as personal
stories of killing on an individual and mass scale using horrific means was
indeed widespread in Vietnam, the most notorious evidence of which was the
massacre at My Lai and the operations of Tiger Force, a task force of the
Army�s 1st Battalion. This was but the tip of the iceberg of war crimes, some
of which were recounted by soldiers at the Winter Soldier conference near the
end of the war.
The second wave of reaction came with the presidency of
Ronald Reagan, who was lauded as the �Great Communicator,� a misnomer of
gigantic proportions. Reagan was hostile to civil liberties and the antiwar
movement even when he served as the governor of California. He carried those
prejudices with him to Washington, D.C.
Soon, under Reagan, U.S. foreign policy was aimed at Central
America where the rightists of El Salvador and the anti-Sandinista contras ran
rampant in Nicaragua committing atrocities against civilians and destroying the
promise of democracy in that country. The attack against the tiny island of
Grenada was just a sideshow to Reagan�s vicious and militaristic vitriol. His
expansion of the military budget and tax giveaways to the wealthy were
additional hallmarks of his administration.
Reagan�s vice president, George H.W. Bush, carried on his
former boss� legacy of violence in Central America with an attack against
Panama and the seizure of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Noriega, our
former client, was convicted on drug trafficking charges and imprisoned in the
U.S. until recently.
Besides the bombing of the former Yugoslavia by President
Bill Clinton, purportedly to stop ethnic cleansing in the former Soviet
satellite, Clinton�s years in office were fairly sedate in terms of military
aggression. He was satisfied to begin the movement toward a globalized economy
and a program of neoliberalism at home that sped up the process of carrying out
the death penalty and ended welfare. His successor, however, George W. Bush,
was a loose cannon in terms of militarism and began the now nine-year war in
Afghanistan without ever bringing the ringleader of the September 11, 2001
attacks against the U.S. to justice.
Bush represents the fourth wave of reaction in the U.S.
since Vietnam. His swaggering demeanor began the nation-building war against
Iraq that made that nation�s oil safe for plunder. Following in the footsteps
of his father, he made the link that led to the death of untold thousands of
Iraqis that his father had begun in defense of Kuwait that were followed by
severe economic sanctions. The economic sanctions against Iraq continued from
Bush to Bush and through Clinton�s presidency, another indication that both
major parties in the U.S. are indeed now the parties of war.
The fifth wave of reaction began under Barack Obama who came
into office riding on the coattails of the twin engines of hope and change. Instead,
Obama gave the nation and the world an expanded war in Afghanistan that shows
no prospect of ending soon or improving the lives of ordinary Afghans. The
expanded influence and power of the Taliban is a yet another example of that
But it was not solely because of Obama�s military policies
that the fifth wave of reaction truly came into its own. Rather, it was his
paltry efforts to extend health care to about 30 million Americans and rein in
the outrageous power of Wall Street and huge mega-corporations that created the
Tea Party movement now riding high on the fifth crest of the wave of reaction. That
movement, made up of modern-day Know Nothings, with the likes of Sarah Palin at
its beck and call, is perhaps the greatest threat to what is left of democracy
today in the United States. Anti-immigrant, religiously intolerant, and in the
pockets of big business and the military, this pro-war and anti-people movement
is poised to fire the juggernaut to take over both the House and Senate in this
Like all movements on the right, this movement panders to
the fears of ordinary Americans, many beaten up badly by The Great Recession
who are looking for a savior in a place that it is most unlikely to come from. In
fact, the Tea Party represents the very interests inimical to those most harmed
by the recession and will certainly drive those people into greater misery. The
extreme right in the U.S. has the uncanny ability to make those who would be
most harmed by its agenda vote against their own self-interests, and it happens
again and again by pandering to the politics of hate and fear among the
What the latter bodes for the U.S. is frightening! And the
two party system, with both major parties in favor of endless wars and a free
ride for the folks in big business and the military-industrial complex that
landed the nation in this recession, provides little or no hope for those hurt
most by these policies. With third parties in the U.S. relegated to quadrennial
dog and pony shows of little consequence, the prospects for democracy in the
U.S. are less than dim! And with a nonexistent vibrant peace and justice
movement, the danger to democracy is very real!
Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer and an
educator. He can be reached at email@example.com.