(A scene from Divide & Conquer)

By Al Markowitz

Beyond the midterms, we have reached a dangerous divide in our country. People live in fear of voicing opinions in public. Family ties are damaged by political differences and, as recent events demonstrate, violence and hate-based terror are on the rise. We are headed down a dangerous path that can devolve into the deadly chaos we’ve witnessed in places like Sarajevo or Syria. Much blame can be laid on the racist opportunism and hyper-nationalism of the Trump administration but the reality is that Trump is the product more than the cause.

So how did we, a nation whose citizens share common ground on many issues that effect us, get to this point? Much of this can be laid at the feet of a very few individuals. Individuals who understood the power of culture to shape our identity and our perceptions. Individuals who understand media. Individuals with an agenda. One such individual – and no doubt, the person most responsible for the divide rending our social fabric and national politics – is Roger Ailes. I’ve said many times, to the chagrin of like-minded friends, that Ailes, the most successful propagandist in our history, was a genius. Admittedly, as a writer who does my best to inspire critical thought, and, through my publishing efforts with the Blue Collar Review, to influence our cultural perspective, I admire the talent, insight and success of Roger Ailes. At the same time, I realize what an evil monster he was and tremble at the damage he has wrought.

Roger Ailes was a master of propaganda who advised and helped elect, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Donald Trump and many Congressional Republicans. He was central in reshaping the GOP, moving it to the extreme right. But his biggest and most influential role came in linking up with Rupert Murdoch to found and expand FOX “news.” FOX is directly connected with corporate think tanks and lobbying groups like “The Franklin Center” funded by the Koch brothers and the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In consistently dispensing divisive partisan misinformation, Ailes managed to warp the minds of a significant number of Americans. His biggest triumph was the tribalization of politics beyond issues, based on fear, xenophobia and hate, echoing the racist, paranoiac John Birch Society of a previous era, (founded not coincidentally by Charles Koch, father of the Koch brothers). The steady stream of propaganda emanating from right-wing media diverts real resentments based in failed neoliberal economic policy, twisting righteous anger from solutions to the nurturing of xenophobic scapegoating and misplaced, self-defeating rage. The right-wing linkage with TV Evangelists and the partisan distorting of fundamentalist Christianity have been central to the building of an extremist base as well. This hearkens back to the church-state unity of the old world which fostered bloody pogroms and internecine oppression and is inseparable from the anti-Semitism that is endemic to our country. This is an old ruse with a bloody historic trail which leads to sociopathic, often violent behavior, massive human rights abuses and eventually, genocide. We are witness to the growing results in recent events.

Trump, with the help of FOX, which had preened his rise, and the backing of a global billionaire cabal including the Saudis, the UAE, Israel, Russia and domestic extremists, tapped into the misinformed tribal base cultivated by Roger Ailes’ FOX project and related talk-radio. Trump is the inevitable product of this project to empower a neo-fascist, corporate-dominant autocracy. Long after he is gone from the political scene, the ugly division Ailes has empowered will still be with us and will have to be dealt with unless the broadcasting of blatant misinformation and the rise in violent racist terror isn’t confronted soon.

The resulting rise in the popularity of FOX and the right-wing disinformation machine shaped mainstream corporate media as well. In response to partisan attacks, NPR moved to the center-right. CNN and especially MSNBC, while closer than FOX to facts, are the Democratic party equivalents, pushing neo-liberal policy and neo-con aggressions as well as attacks on Trump in a similar divisive and tribalizing manor. They too have fallen under the influence of Roger Ailes in technique. Even the hit ads in the recent midterm elections – from both parties – echo Ailes. For example, when Mitch McConnell was first running for office, Roger Ailes made a commercial for him in which he was fishing which helped get him elected. In the recent midterms a commercial showed Elaine Luria fishing in a remake of this Ailes piece. Though Democrats have somewhat better social priorities, both corporate parties serve big business interests. Keeping us divided disempowers us as citizens, protecting moneyed interests that would otherwise be challenged for doing things that would not be popular to an informed and more united majority.

A documentary on Roger Ailes called “Divide and Conquer” will be showing at the Naro Cinema on Wednesday, December 12. I find this film problematic in that it tries too hard to be fair and balanced, focusing on Ailes’s paranoia and sexual bullying rather than examining the damage wrought on the country by his tribalizing of politics. It is still worth seeing to get some insight into Ailes and the FOX phenomenon.

Beyond the growing, essentially phony partisan divide cultivated at our mutual expense, there are the rest of us. As I have written before, we as citizens have far more common ground than we have disagreement. We all want basic security, economic opportunity, good schools, safe food and water, freedom and real representation. We all oppose corruption and public thievery at our expense. Beyond promoted fears, we need to accept that there is no “them,” just us. We are all dependent on each other, on a livable environment and a functional civilization. Those who seek to divide us do so for their own agendas which are never in our mutual interest.

Ultimately, responsible citizenship requires our being informed, not just about our country but about the world around us. It means not getting our news from Facebook memes, or partisan sources that confirm our beliefs. We have to accept that there are facts and that solutions to problems can be argued about rationally. It means being willing to talk with and listen to people we disagree with about issues and events without seeing them as our enemies. Civilization, freedom, and the survival of a representative Republic depend on it.