President Obama's defense of the construction of a Muslim religious and cultural center in lower Manahattan, consistent with the freedom of religion and respect for individual and group rights inherent in the U.S. Constitution, was met by a storm of criticism from demagoguing Republicans and fear and trepidation by fellow Democrats, leading the President -- himself regularly the target of prejudice and bigotry -- to do the right thing politically and psychologically: back down.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, August 17, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Demagoguery Always Works!
That's why it's called demagoguery - playing to the prejudices of the masses is always popular.
And the idea that Americans appreciate brave people? - balderdash. That's why people who speak up to protect minorities are brave - because they will always be attacked - punished - for it. Remember the Freedom Riders who were spat upon - and worse - for sitting in at lunch counters in the South? They were lucky if they came out of there alive.
What we can't get our minds around is that the people who spat on school children going to integrated schools, politicians who barred little children from entering school buildings, people who beat - yes, and even murdered - freedom riders felt good because they were doing the right thing - and everyone they knew agreed with them (which is why they couldn't be convicted in open court).
When we look back on those times, we want to think: "bigoted people were so dumb then; thank God we've learned better."
We've learned nothing! We are as bigoted as ever; we've just moved our bigotry down the road. While the white Protestant male elite endorsed slavery in the Constitution, and didn't give women the right to vote (which had to be fought hard for almost 150 years later), as late as World War II, almost 175 years later, the overwhelming majority of soldiers surveyed refused to serve with "Negroes" or Jews.
Through memorizing enough civics texts in middle schools, we've drummed it into the heads of the majority of people that such prejudice is "wrong." But the idea that prejudice, bigotry, teaming up against people unlike us is alive and well.
And anyone with the temerity to go up against prejudice and who supports the rights of different kinds of people will pay a price -- just ask Barack Obama -- who backpedaled so quickly from his "bravery" that he almost fell on his ass. That kind of caution gets you elected president.
Unless you lose to someone even more venal, bigoted, and demagogued up -- like. . . .