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Who Are ‘They’? For a Hot Moment, I Was Almost One Myself

We will never, I think, fully banish the specter of MAGA fascism from American life until each of us has a personal reckoning.

For me, that reckoning begins with vivid memories of twenty years ago. In July 2002, I started a new job in Rockville, Maryland, about 130 miles from where I was living with my abusive first wife and two young sons in Salisbury, Maryland. I usually made this trip in stages, driving 75 miles from Salisbury to Kent Island on the Chesapeake Bay and then catching a series of commuter buses and the subway to my workplace. The trip took me about three and a half hours each way. I would leave home when it was still dark and return home well into the evening. This routine was so exhausting that I was in danger of dozing off behind the wheel on the drive home, to prevent which I would scream and slap myself, all alone in the car. Until I discovered right-wing talk radio.

Although I was a lifelong liberal and had been a peace activist in two countries, I found myself roaring with laughter as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage sarcastically skewered everything I had been brought up to believe. The anger was so invigorating! Not only did it keep me awake and alive for my drive, it was a tremendous emotional release. Because when I got home, I was always greeted with another heaping of emotional and occasional physical abuse from my wife, who had successfully manipulated me into cutting off ties with my parents, my friends, and virtually everyone I had known before. She had also successfully manipulated me into believing that the abuse was all my fault, so I had no legitimate right to be angry with her. Nevertheless, the anger over my intolerable life was there, and it had to find an outlet. For a dizzy, bitter moment of my life, I was one of the army of lost American men who drink from the poisoned well of right-wing media.

Various elements of my personal story are unique, not to say bizarre. This was also a long time ago, before MAGA fascism was even conceivable. As awful as Shrub Bush and Dick Cheney were, as crazy as the Republican right wing was in those days just after 9/11 and just before the Second Gulf War, we have since learned to our horror that they were not the rock bottom, that there is no rock bottom, that American society can keep collapsing endlessly. But the insight I gained from that bitter and terrifying period of my life is invaluable: that the sources of destructive political rage are potentially inexhaustible, and the “eternal vigilance” that the proverb tells us is the price of liberty applies also to our own souls.

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