(NNPA) - When a virtually unknown Republican Congressman, Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted the words "You lie!" during a Sept. 9 speech by President Barack Obama, it was the latest example of the uncivil tone and rancorous atmosphere created by many of the president's opponents on the right.
In recent weeks, town hall meetings have descended into shouting matches, right wing radio and television commentators have become increasingly vituperative in their criticism, and spasmodic outbursts of rage are becoming commonplace.
Calling Rep. Wilson's blunder "an appalling lack of civility in an institution that actually prides itself on civility," Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, president and founder of the Washington D.C.-based Global Policy Solutions, said some Whites may be experiencing anxiety as the political and social landscape of America changes rapidly.
"What is interesting here is that for decades, there was a stereotype of the angry Black male and now we are seeing something that looks like the rise of the angry White male," the respected policy analyst and author told The Final Call. "If one were to psychoanalyze this situation it may be that in Barack Obama, you see the president of the United States symbolizing for them an end of an era, and that is an era where they were actually able to limit competition for prestigious positions, posts and opportunities just to other White men," Rockeymoore added.
Anti-racism activist and author Tim Wise agreed, saying the severe economic downturn, a Black president, demographic shifts and a change in pop culture have been "jarring" to the collective White psyche causing widespread anger, fear and insecurity and an identity crisis among those who have enjoyed a privileged existence in America.
"It's sort of like a collective nervous breakdown on the part of large segments of White America," said Wise, who also authored the book, "Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama." "Looking at double digit unemployment isn't all that rare for Blacks and Latinos, but for White folks, that has not even been close to the reality since the days of The Depression, so when you have had two or three generations of Whites who have never had that kind of insecurity, that is very jarring, I'm sure for folks who have gotten used to taking for granted a fairly solid opportunity structure."
The presence of a president of color has also been a cause for anxiety by those who have grown accustomed to being special and the symbol of importance in the dominant society, said Wise.
"Even people who are not bigots have gotten used to seeing the representative symbol of our nation (as) someone who reminds us of us -- those of us who are White -- and even though we don't think about the level of comfort that provides psychologically, it doesn't take a genius or a psychologist to figure out that when that image changes, it creates sort of a mental disconnect or some cognitive dissonance that just becomes one of those things that's hard for some people to get their head around," he added.
Right Wing Zealots
Rep. Wilson said his emotions got the best of him when he inappropriately blurted out "You lie!" violating the protocols and decorum of the American political landscape. While in the hours immediately following his gaffe, Rep. Wilson was roundly condemned by many political commentators, the next day, his right wing supporters came to his defense.
The Secret Service reports that the rate of threats against the President has increased 400 percent since President Barack Obama took office in January as the first Black President of the United States.
Shortly following President Obama's health care speech, consistent Obama critic Sean Hannity of FOX News called the president's Sept. 9 address "a campaign speech full of partisan hackery." Rep. Wilson was also given a chance to defend himself by answering softball questions lobbed at him during an appearance on Sean Hannity's Sept.10 television show.
During the Sept. 10 edition of his radio show, bloviating conservative hardliner Rush Limbaugh also called President Obama a liar and said he wished Rep. Joe Wilson had not apologized.
"I was shouting 'you're lying' throughout the speech at the television," Limbaugh said. "Joe Wilson simply articulated what millions of Americans were saying," he added.
In addition, T-shirts were immediately available for purchase on the internet that said "I am Joe Wilson" and "You Lie!" On one Twitter page, a supporter wrote, "Joe Wilson (R-SC), patriotic American: done apologizing, now he fights back." According to CNN, Rep. Wilson has raised $1 million from supporters. According to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as of Sept. 11, Rep. Wilson's opponent, Rob Miller, an Iraq War veteran had received $750,000 in donations, within less than 48-hours after Rep. Wilson shouted at the president on national television.
Using their television and radio shows as platforms, commentators such as Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, who routinely shouts at guests on his show, contribute to this toxic mix of intolerance, say critics. Self-described "Mr. Independent" Lou Dobbs is an outspoken anti-immigration advocate, very popular radio host Michael Savage reaches millions of people daily and was recently banned by the UK. He was the target of a boycott campaign, accused of stoking the flames of Islamophobia by the Council of American Islamic Relations. And there is also conservative film critic Michael Medved whose infamous attempt at revisionist history includes a 2007 article titled "Six Inconvenient Truths About the U.S. and Slavery."
There are also some angry White women in the media mix such as author and lecturer Ann Coulter, commentator Laura Ingraham, and best-selling author Michelle Malkin, who is Filipino, who all reach the public with their acerbic feminine perspectives via radio, television and the blogosphere.
While President Obama won the 2008 election after garnering over 69 million votes, it is important to note that close to 60 million people voted for his defeated opponent, Sen. John McCain. Though flashes of intolerance and bitterness were shown during the campaign, many of those anti-Obama voters appear to have become enraged.
"I think we have to understand that there is something that is actually different about this level of vitriol. There is something different and I think that difference is a reaction that is connected to Obama's race," said Rockeymoore.
In a recently published essay by Wise, he compared the Republican Party to the infamous Afrikaner Party that championed apartheid in South Africa. He also pointed out that throughout history, activists labeled as "socialists" and "communists" have been found on the correct side of many of the great social reforms that have taken place and conservative media commentators have been on the side of maintaining White supremacy.
"Even the White icons in pop culture are not White the way they were when John Wayne was the thing," said Wise. "White America has been made for years to feel that we were the prototype of what an American was."
Referring to David Duke who served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1990 until 1992 and in a losing effort, garnered over 671,000 votes when he ran for Governor of Louisiana in 1991, Wise said, "The reality is that all those people that voted for Duke had to go somewhere, they didn't all die," he said.
Wise said we are not quite at the level of "openly fascist commentary" though the rhetoric of many within America's right wing has been similar to that of far right staunch nationalist and stridently anti-immigration movements and leaders across the globe, such as Nick Griffin of the British National Party, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party currently Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of the Israeli Knesset, and Jean-Marie Le Pen of France.
"When you see White people in the midst of this identity crisis (they) are really trying to say, 'Who are we and what is it that makes us special because 100 years ago, we knew," said Wise.
It Appears as if Cooler Heads Will Prevail.
At a wreath laying ceremony on Sept. 11 at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., honoring those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack eight years ago, President Obama continued to speak words to unite the country.
"Most of all, on a day when others sought to sap our confidence, let us renew our common purpose. Let us remember how we came together as one nation, as one people, as Americans, united not only in our grief, but in our resolve to stand with one another, to stand up for the country we all love," said President Obama.
Rockeymoore said the level of discussion regarding the issues confronting this nation --the economy, health care and national security -- must be discussed in a civilized manner, which is truly being exemplified by President Obama.
Said Rockeymore, "We have to recapture the public square and take this to a higher level and I think that's what Barack Obama is trying to do. Every time he maintains his calm, his composure, when he addresses these situations in an understanding tone, it encourages people to think on a higher level. He is trying to combat irrationality with reason and rationality and he is encouraging other Americans to do the same thing."