When I was a kid growing up in Utica, New York in the 1950s and early 1960s, an ungodly amount of our Social Studies curriculum was devoted to hard-core anti-Communist propaganda. Since our town was nestled in the Mohawk Valley—the heart of French and Indian War country–we were also forced to study obscenely detailed accounts of Catholic priests being flayed alive by Iroquois squaws, cooked alive on spits but never renouncing their Savior, etc. This theme—of Catholics martyred by infidels—surfaced yet again when we studied “Red” China, which Mister Fletcher soberly informed us had slaughtered 100,000 Catholic priests. It was never really clear to us what the hell 100,000 Catholic priests were doing in “Red” China in the first place, but the net effect of all this flaying and roasting and slaughter, in a largely Catholic town, was probably to discourage boys from entering the priesthood.
But this blood-soaked anti-communist syllabus wasn’t even confined to the classroom. As weekend homework in sixth grade, that same Mister Fletcher—actually an excellent teacher, who generously allowed me to heckle and debate him—had us listen to a radio program (radio! yes! I’m that freaking old!). The program was called Fred Schwarz’ Christian Anti-Communist Crusade. Much to my mother’s disgust, once a week I had to tune our bulky but handsome Blaupunkt console radio away from Ray Charles or Chubby Checker to Schwarz’ show, which (like his book) was called You Can Trust the Communists…To Do Exactly What They Say!
It’s a pretty snappy title, and Fred Schwarz—who had converted from Judaism at 20—was a pretty snappy fascist. Reading his stuff now makes you pine for the golden days of anti-communism; Schwarz had actually read Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, and Engels, and spoke knowingly of Hegelian dialectics and nodal points and other things I still don’t understand. Nonetheless, Dr Fred Schwarz was a freaking lunatic, and it was like forcing sixth-grade students to watch Alex Jones bellowing about false flag shotings. Schwarz’ shtick—a simple, not to say simplistic one, repeated ad nauseum—was to present a quote from Marx, Stalin, Kruschev, whoever, either taken way out of context or completely made up, which “proved” his thesis: that Communism was a flesh-eating alien force that would soon devour us all. In Schwarz’ world, little existed beyond Communism. Little Richard? Brando? Women in trousers? The infield fly rule? Broken dinner appointments? Communism was more than just an evil political force. It was a mystical, all-annihilating, airborne pathogen.
It was, come to think of it, pretty much what the Jews were to Hitler and Goebbels.
And what “Russia” has become to MSNBC.
To Schwarz, as to the John Birch Society, the problem wasn’t just those hard-core, obvious Communists like Dwight D Eisenhower. No, there was an even more insidious group of “comsymps” at work in every school and office in America, jelly-spined weaklings who did the Rooskies’ bidding by failing to condemn them at every turn. These Comsymps were everywhere and nowhere. That “nice” postman who delivers The Saturday Evening Post, with its radical filth by Pearl Buck? Possible Comsymp. Your pediatrician, recommending Doctor Spock? A definite medical Comsymp. Now that I think of it, Mister Fletcher himself may well have been a Comsymp, consciously over-hyping right-wing nonsense in order to breed yet more Comsymps!
Of course, this was more than a half-century ago, and Dr Fred Schwarz now sleeps on the wrong side of the lawn. And yet his spirit hovers on, smelling of boiling cabbage, in the studios of MSNBC. Day or night, MSNBC gonna MSNBC. It’s become a quick-take machine which sucks in the raw political material of the day and packs it into shapely—but deeply paranoid—anti-Russia narratives. When they’re forced to interrupt this Trump/Putin/Assange horror story to briefly cover hurricanes or mass shootings, you can sense the foot-tapping impatience in Joy Reid—um, when can we get back to Robert Mueller? At a time when one in five American children goes to bed hungry, we hear absolutely nothing about it, but we are barraged with endless details about the FBI serving warrants on Paul Manafort. As millions of black, Hispanic, Native American and poor white people rot in jails for drug possession, we hear absolutely nothing about it, but we are kept up to the minute on Jared Kushner’s real –estate holdings. Yes, you can trust MSBNC to do whatever it takes to make Russia seem evil–Joy Reid even claimed that it’s still a Communist hell!—so as to distract its viewers from Hillary Clinton’s dumb-bell campaign, and the staggering failures of the Democratic Party. We can be grateful that at least they no longer pretend to “Lean Forward;” Reid herself admits that she now feels closer to neo-con war freaks like Bill Kristol and Jon Podhoretz than she does to “the left.”
MSNBC has even pinpointed the Comsymps of 2017: that’s everyone who doesn’t share their obsessive belief that a band of super-genius Russian Lex Luthors stole our election by sub-tweeting John Podesta’s emails and taking out some ads on Facebook. Don’t believe it? There’s a simple, MSNBC-approved test. The next time you have an appointment with your child’s pediatrician, I dare you—see if he or she even mentions Paul Manafort! Perhaps then your eyes will finally be opened to the horror…
I wish you Godspeed, my friends, because the road is dark, and the Comsymps are everywhere. Thank God you can trust MSBNC!