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Governing by Scapegoat

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Got a problem? Simplify and project.

When you have a country to govern and you have no idea what to do — and, even more to the core of the matter, you also have a crony-agenda you want to push quietly past the populace — there’s a time-proven technique that generally works. Govern by scapegoat!

This usually means go to war, but sometimes that’s not enough. Here in the USA, there’s been so much antiwar sentiment since the disastrous quagmires of the last half century — Vietnam, the War (To Promote) Terror — we’ve had to make war simply part of the background noise. The military cash bleed continues, but the public lacks an international enemy to rally against and blame for its insecurity.

Creating a scapegoat enemy domestically has also gotten complicated. Thugs and punks — predatory (minority) teenagers — shoulder much of the responsibility for keeping the country distracted, but in this era of political correctness, politicians have to be careful. Thus the Trump administration has turned to the immigrants. Not all of them, of course — only the ones from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. In particular, it has turned to . . . the illegals!

Why is America so violent?

“It’s pure evil,” runs the newly released Trump campaign ad. “President Trump is right: Build the wall, deport criminals, stop illegal immigration now. Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants. President Trump will fix our border and keep our families safe.”

Governing by scapegoat is more than just a stupid appeal to the base. Its cruel consequences are manifold. In essence, doing so both wrecks lives and ignores the real causes of the country’s problems. Often enough, it contributes to the social collapse at the root of the problems it purports to address.

Here’s one look at the humanity of DACA: “It meant we did not fear that today — any day — was going to be the last day we could hug our children, parents or siblings,” Dreamer Reyna Montoya writes at Truthout. “It allowed us to have inner peace, knowing that we were not going to be thrown to a country we no longer know. DACA provided safety, and that is now being ripped away.”

Leaving hundreds of thousands of lives “hanging by a thread,” as Montoya put it, strikes me as contributing to the problem, not the solution. Trump’s claim that “illegals” contribute in a serious way to American violence is totally without factual basis, but because violence has become a plague in this country, explaining its cause with scapegoat propaganda has a feel-good resonance for a lot of people. It’s so much easier to blame some designated “other” than to look within.

But consider . . .

“The governor and several people in Benton (Kentucky) said they couldn’t believe a mass shooting would happen in their small, close-knit town. But many such shootings across the nation have happened in rural communities.”

Yeah, another one, at a high school in rural Kentucky. This was just the day before yesterday, as I write. Two students killed, as many as 20 injured, a 15-year-old boy arrested. He fired a handgun into a crowded atrium at the school until he ran out of bullets. This is now minor news in America: ho hum, another mass murder. Unless the death toll is in double digits, it commands only perfunctory headlines.

Indeed, the Associated Press account of the shooting — complete with stats and data putting it into the context of similar occurrences — read almost like coverage of a sporting event. “The attack marked the year’s first fatal school shooting.”

And, oh yeah: “Marshall County High School is about 30 minutes from Heath High School in Paducah, Ky., where a 1997 mass shooting killed three and injured five. Michael Carneal, then 14, opened fire there about two years before the fatal attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, ushering in an era when mass school shootings have become much more common.

“Meanwhile, in the small North Texas town of Italy, a 15-year-old girl was recovering Tuesday after police said she was shot by a 16-year-old classmate in her high school cafeteria on Monday, sending dozens of students scrambling for safety. Police in Louisiana, meanwhile, are investigating shots fired Monday as students gathered outside their charter school.”

The agenda that Trump and his cohorts are focused on moving forward is not the one that addresses American misery, but the one that slashes corporate taxes and privatizes as much of the social infrastructure as possible. For instance, four months after Hurricane Maria, 30 percent of Puerto Rico remains without electric power. Government relief efforts didn’t go much beyond the presidential tossing of paper towels — a racist gesture if ever there was one — but now the Puerto Rican governor has a plan to privatize the island’s power utility. Appalled critics are calling this a blatant example of disaster capitalism: the use of tragedy to further a corporate agenda.

Let the rich grow richer. When that causes trouble, blame the ones who have the least.

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Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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