Echoes of totalitarianism in US media mob-rule
As I made the rounds at the plethora of holiday parties in liberal Hollywood, the consensus here was that people are angry and frightened over Trump’s election and presidency. In response, they have found two outlets to take their fear and loathing to extremes, the #MeToo movement and the Trump-Russia story.
It is ironic these stories share the spotlight in our current cultural zeitgeist because, while Russia-gate was born out of a paper-thin intelligence report that was almost entirely devoid of relevant facts, the #MeToo movement was born out of overwhelming evidence and testimonials about Harvey Weinstein’s truly despicable and not-so-secret abusive behavior over thirty years.
Another irony is that the Russia story is fueled by those in the media that believe that Russia and the Russian people are all totalitarian Soviets at heart, while some in the #MeToo movement have, at times, behaved like Soviet totalitarians. While the particulars are very different, the totalitarian impulse at the heart of both of these stories is eerily reminiscent of the dark period of McCarthyism and of Hollywood’s blacklist.
In the Russia-gate story the totalitarian inclination revealed itself when the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (investigating allegations of collusion between Trump and Russia) declared that the scope of their probe would be so broad as to encompass anyone a subject “knows or has reason to believe is of Russian nationality or descent”.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein also demanded that Facebook hand over all information on “Russia-connected accounts” which she defines as “a person or entity that may be connected in some way to Russia, including by user language setting, user currency and/or other payment method.”
This means that the three million Americans of Russian-descent are now suspect and, if you fraternize with them, you are suspect too. This sort of terrifying xenophobic propaganda, political repression, restriction of speech and mass surveillance would make Stalin proud and is a strong indicator of a totalitarian trend.
The #MeToo awakening has brought much needed attention to the scourge of rape, sexual assault and harassment by people in power, but it too has a shadow that resembles the spirit of totalitarianism.
Dana Goodyear’s article in The New Yorker, titled “Can Hollywood Change Its Ways?” highlighted some of the examples of the totalitarianism at the heart of #MeToo. In the piece, she describes accused individuals being disappeared from public memory.
“Photographs of the accused have come down from walls, names are being scrubbed from donated buildings, performances have been reshot with replacement actors, online libraries pulled, movies shelved.”
She then quotes a sexual harassment investigator who tells her “An association with the accused is totally toxic now, with this wave upon wave upon wave, and Soviet Union-style erasure.”
An example of this Soviet-style erasure is Garrison Keillor. Keillor, the longtime host of Minnesota Public Radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, had a co-worker claim that his hand momentarily lingered too long on her bare back during a hug. As a result, MPR not only cut all ties with Keillor and his production company, but the words “Prairie Home Companion” have been excised from MPR and they have vowed never to re-broadcast any of his old episodes. In the tradition of totalitarianism, MPR has succeeded in creating a world where not only does Garrison Keillor not exist, but he NEVER existed.
Goodyear also writes in her article of an unnamed male movie industry executive: “Now he worries that having a young female assistant will invite speculation, and speculation begets reporters’ calls. The very idea provokes hysteria. ‘Men (in Hollywood) are living as Jews in Germany,’ he said.”
Obvious hyperbole aside (millions of innocents are not being slaughtered over #MeToo claims), the terror that would generate comparisons to “Soviet-style erasure” and the Nazi’s Final Solution sounds pretty totalitarian to me.
Another example of #MeToo totalitarianism occurred last month when the hugely popular actor Matt Damon learned the hard way that trying to speak reason and logic in the face of a powerful emotional tsunami like #MeToo is a fool’s errand.
Damon commented on the #MeToo phenomenon by saying he thinks the alleged perpetrators of misconduct should not be thrown into “one big bucket” because there is a “spectrum of behavior”.
Damon then said, “You know, there’s a difference between…patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?”. He went on to add, “Both behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”
#MeToo gatekeepers Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver quickly chastised Damon for not adhering to the #MeToo movement’s orthodoxy. Across the board the press joined Milano and Driver in shaming Damon for his “mansplaining” and sent a clear message that dissenters from the party line will be publicly punished.
While there has been some great #MeToo reporting from Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker, and by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at the New York Times, in regards to Russia-gate the media has not exactly covered itself in glory.
CNN, The Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC and many other news outlets revealed a totalitarian level of disdain for truth and accuracy when they erroneously reported all sorts of bizarre and untrue stories over the last year, including Russia hacking the Vermont power grid, Russia hacking 21 states’ voting systems, and Michael Flynn admitting to Trump’s collusion with Russia, to name just a few of the many instances.
Even the esteemed New York Times fell for the Russia-gate hysteria when they published an op-ed from Louise Mensch, a certifiable loon who claims that Trump is already indicted and is being replaced by Senator Orrin Hatch, that Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity are Russian agents, and that Steve Bannon is facing the death penalty for treason.
In contrast, quality reporters like Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald from The Intercept and Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone, who maintain a healthy skepticism of the Russia-gate claims which are as-yet lacking in evidence, are marginalized and exiled from the bright lights of the big-time mainstream news media.
The United States is supposed to be a constitutional democratic republic, governed by the rule of law. Sadly, #MeToo and the Russia story thus far have proven themselves to be more governed by the angry mob, with the rule of law being replaced with trial by media or in corporate kangaroo courts.
There are terrible people out there who have raped, assaulted and harassed both women and men, of this there is no doubt. But in the great tradition of American constitutional democracy, even heinous individuals, like Harvey Weinstein, Bret Ratner, Kevin Spacey and Russell Simmons, deserve due process, including the right to confront their accusers and to present evidence in their defense.
It is an unhealthy sign for our constitutional democratic republic that, of the 110 men who have recently been accused of either rape, assault or harassment, none of them, not a single one, has had a neutral arbiter, like a judge and jury, review the allegations and render judgment. In fact, in only nine of those cases have police reports even been filed. Furthermore, only 14 of the 110 accused have admitted guilt, yet 72 have lost their jobs.
In a constitutional democratic republic these people should be able to defend themselves, but in a totalitarian state, with a trial by media and innuendo, there can be no defense. America has deteriorated to the point where all one has to do is point the finger and scream “J’accuse” and someone’s life and career can be destroyed.
The same is true of Russian election meddling/collusion. It is certainly possible that Russia ‘hacked’ the US election, but demanding verifiable evidence of this is not a treasonous act, it is a patriotic one. In totalitarian states the assertions of the military and intelligence community are taken in good faith, but in an alleged constitutional democratic republic, assertions are not facts and evidence trumps faith.
And while Russian election ‘hacking’ and Trump campaign collusion may eventually turn out to be true, it is vital to remember that this does not mean that Russians or Americans of Russian descent are somehow inherently untrustworthy or insidious.
#MeToo and Russia-gate both fail to live up to the standards of a vibrant constitutional democratic republic when they embrace the path of totalitarianism by conflating accusations with proven fact, embrace emotion over reason, tout guilt by association, encourage disappearing people and erasing history, and silence dissent.
The United States thinks of itself as the shining city on the hill that is a beacon for freedom and democracy, but it is fast becoming a totalitarian nation because it is a nation populated by individual totalitarians that worship power and devalue truth. We Americans have all become little tyrants looking for a balcony, and with the #MeToo and Russia-gate stories we have finally found one, where we can vent our fear and loathing, but at the expense of our American soul.
Michael McCaffrey, for RT
Michael McCaffrey is a freelance writer, film critic and cultural commentator. He currently resides in Los Angeles where he runs his acting coaching and media consulting business. mpmacting.com/blog/
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.