Glenn Beck’s weekend speech was reminiscent of the radical 1960s black separatist leader: Both terrify mainstream liberals and shed politics for a message of spiritual uplift.
As hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C. for Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, one couldn’t help but notice a powerful nostalgia for an America that is slipping away. In her remarks to the crowd, Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and conservative folk hero, said, “we must not fundamentally transform America, as some would want,” a not-so-veiled reference to President Obama and his allies. Instead, “we must restore America and restore her honor,” a message that resonated with a crowd that by all accounts was overwhelmingly white and Christian, with large numbers hailing from rural areas and small towns. Palin, like Beck, was talking about a spiritual restoration, a return to time-tested virtues that had been celebrated by the more homogeneous America of the past, in which non-traditional families were stigmatized and relatively rare, church attendance was far more common, and the dominance of Anglo-Protestant culture was unquestioned.
But as most of those who attended Beck’s rally understand in their bones, that world is gone. And President Obama, for all his efforts to expand the reach of the federal government, has had very little to do with this deep transformation. Rather, the country has long since been transformed by powerful demographic and economic forces that very much threaten what we might call Glenn Beck’s America.
Instead of accepting or embracing this transformation, a large and growing number of white Americans are, knowingly or otherwise, taking a page from minority protest movements of the past by asserting themselves and demanding recognition from political and cultural elites. Many on the left find this sense of anger and alienation risible, seeing in this movement of “are-nots,” as opposed to “have-nots,” a class of ignoramuses duped by Fox News into acting against their supposed economic interests.
Yet it seems more plausible that Fox News is following its audience rather than leading it — that this anger and alienation has existed for years, and has only now found a decidedly unconventional tribune in the form of Glenn Beck. Though this is a class with economic grievances, it seems more concerned with psychic injuries — with a profound sense of disempowerment in the face of centralized political power.
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