Right-Wing Myths: From America First to The Lost Cause

Source: https://lexica.art + American myth + the author

Among the many right-wing fibs and myths cooked up over the last decades, there are a few noteworthy examples. Right-wing fibs and myths can be understood as widely-held exaggerations and overtly idealized – but essentially false – belief. They are deliberate misrepresentations of truth. Four recent more potent right-wing fairy tales are:

1. Taxes: The wealthy pay a higher percentage in taxes as a punishment – not true: it is called progressive taxation. Let none other than Warren Buffett explains this.

2. Welfare: Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen – she did not exist, eventually, a minor con-artistLinda Taylor – was found and trumped as welfare queen. In contrast to Ronald Reagan’s false claim of $150,000, she conned $8,000 and was found out and sent to prison;

3. Markets: The free market that must never have any rules and regulations – all markets are state- regulated. The state issues money, regulates weights, measurements, and scales. There is property, copyright, business, and trade law – the legal Code of Capital. Without this, capitalism cannot exist.

4. Laziness: people who find themselves on the bottom of the economy simply deserve to be there because they are lazy – a myth contradicted by the fact of a decline in social mobility.

Beyond all this, there are still a handful, even more powerful, yet frequently regurgitated, right-wing myths.

One of the most enduring right-wing myths is America First! Its updated version is MAGA or Make American Great Again. Already during the second half of the 19th century, many Americans were led to believe in a foreign plot to undermine American democracy. The myth America First! was used as a defense against something called foreignism – it did not exist.

Later, ruthless media-mogul William Randolph Hearstimmortalized in Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane – made America First! the dictum of his flagship newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner.

America First! also featured during the so-called Red Scare. Deeply anti-Semitic demagogues claimed that there is an international Jew financing the Bolshevik Revolution. It did not make sense when German super-Nazi Hitler claimed it and it did not make sense in 1950s America either. It never existed – it remains a right-wing conspiracy fantasy.

Yet, America First! also became useful for the racist idée fixe of the Yellow Peril – a rather widely believed conspiracy fantasy that the Japanese and Chinese would unite the yellow races to invade and overpower white civilizations like the USA. That too did not happen.

Worse, America First! was also used by right-wing circles calling Roosevelt – Rosenfeld – and his New Deal policy, the Jew Deal. Again, America First! would save the nation – it didn’t – Roosevelt did.

Yet again, the right-wing conspiracy fantasy insinuated that the Roosevelt administration was controlled by the international Jew seeking world domination. It urged Americans to settle the Jewish problem by elimination.

In 2016, the ugly head of America First! reared yet again, when Trump announced his own presidential candidacy on the platform of America First! Whether earlier or when used by Donald Trump more recently, the mythical ideology of America First! propagates the right-wing hallucination of American homogeneity. This is something that never existed. Yet, the falsehood of America First! will, as it seems, continue to be with us.

Rather distinct from racist idée fixe of America First! is the right-wing myth of the free market that has, in right-wing mythology, assumed the status of a magic potion – a fairy-tale-like remedy for all ills.

Yet, the free market would give us unrestrained child labor, millions of factory accidents, dangerous and even lethal consumer products, an even worse opioid crisis, wages starvation, the lack of affordable housing, an even worse epidemic of obesity, more air pollution, more gun violence, more diseases, more toxic chemicals, many more COVID-19 deaths, and so on.

In sharp contrast to the right-wing myth of a free market, regulation of, for example, guns, chemicals, fast food, cigarettes (100 million deaths), etc. are solutions that work.

The existence of slavery in the USA for centuries, of course, refutes the right-wing myth that America was built by the market, by the free enterprise system, and by respecting the rights of individuals.

Slavery was – and with 50 million slaves still is – hardly a system that respects the rights of individuals and so does capitalism when it comes to, for example, sweatshops and the (mis)treatment of workers. The right-wing fairy-tale tells us that it was not hundreds of years of slavery but free enterprise and the free market that did it all – magically.

Two of the main agitators of the free market myth were Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek. Particularly, Ludwig von Mises was not just one of the most vociferous free-market absolutists, he also was sympathetic to Austrian fascism.

Mises was chief economist for the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and was an economic advisor of to Engelbert Dollfuss – the Austro-fascist Austrian Chancellor. It might have come naturally to the Austro-fascist Mises to oppose laws restricting child labor and doubting the virtues of public education. Neoliberal master-haranguer and Pinochet-supporter Hayek was Mises’s most influential student.

Hayek’s short booklet The Road to Serfdom is not an economic book. It is a political-ideological pamphlet. Perhaps because of its utter simplicity and entire lack of – not even complex – economic theory, Hayek’s simple-minded belief-system is akin to a New Testament of Capitalism. It is a handy rulebook for believers. With that, it quickly became “THE” bible of market fundamentalism setting up what we call neoliberalism.

Closely following Hayek is Milton Friedman. He remains the best communicator of the political-ideological ideas of neoliberalism. Having killed democracy in Chile – or better: tortured it to death – from 1973 to 1990, right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet implemented neoliberalism’s free market. He was advised by Friedman and The Chicago Boys while establishing a semi-fascist regime in which opponents were systematically kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.

Yet, the free market comes along with rafts of goodies of capitalism, like the physical annihilation of any opposition – trade unions, etc. – to the free market. It wasn’t the free market that killed trade unionists in Chile, it was Pinochet’s bullies, it was Thatcher’s anti-union laws in the UK, etc.

Until today, the free market is sold as an economic theory. This myth insinuates that the free market is not an ideology that legitimizes capitalism. It also has nothing to do with killing democracy.

Yet, right-wing free market ideologues also like to conjure up the tale that the New Deal failed. In reality, the stock market increased by a whopping 66% in Roosevelt’s first 100 days, commodity prices skyrocketed, and investment nearly doubled in 1933.

Worse for the believers in this right-wing myth, the years 1933 to 1937 registered the strongest output growth (39%) of any four-year period in US history outside of wartime. Some of the benefits of the New Deal are:

• saving Americans from starvation, mass destitution, and idleness;
• rescuing banks and the currency;
• bringing electricity to people who never had it;
• building a national road network;
• controlling flooding by rivers;
• eradicating diseases in much of the nation;
• establishing the right to join a union;
• secure an old-age pension, obtain unemployment insurance, and earn a minimum wage; and,
• strengthening people’s trust in democracy and government.

Since the free marketers and the right-wing hate these accomplishments with a passion, they will – for ideological reasons – also reject what an American CEO had to say on the New Deal.

Robert Wood – the then president of the Sears corporation – told the historian Studs Terkel,

Things began to pick up around ’34 and ’35.

It was ’36 before they began to pick up strong,

the Depression ended in ’33.

But it didn’t begin to recover on a big scale until ’36.

Right-wing mythologists need to reject what Sears’ CEO said: I also need to ignore the fact that FDR’s administration knocked down unemployment from 25% in 1932 to about 14% in 1936. As so often, the idée fixe of the radical right, adjacent conservatives, and free market believers is: never let facts get into the way of a good myth.

Perhaps even more devastating than the right-wing’s New Deal myth are the fairy tales that spun about the so-called lost cause of the Confederate defeat. This too, seeks to re-frame historical facts.

Most importantly, behind the Lost Cause myth lurks the ugly face of white supremacy. The Lost Cause myth is simply a system of misbeliefs. It is designed to reassert a commitment to the values of the ancestors (read: to defend slavery).

The myth seeks to make super-heroes out of people like Robert E. Lee and Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. Beyond that, the falsehood romanticized the so-called Old South while recasting the Reconstruction period as a tragic era.

The twisted myth implies that the – now deemed – uncivilized and ignorant freedmen governed their former masters. This is a classic victim-perpetrator reversal often found in right-wing myths.

Ideologically, this myth links up rather neatly to another fable, namely, that the war might be over, but the fight to maintain Southern values continues. Two things are noteworthy. For one, the “might be” in “the war might be over” is wrong. The war “is” in fact – over. Secondly, the term “values” in this context carries connotations to slavery and white supremacy.

To keep this right-wing myth going, virtually every Southern city, town, and hamlet still has relics of the Confederacy. The myth is kept intact. All too often, Confederate flags are flown triumphantly.

Monuments were erected for Lee, the victories of rebels are celebrated, museums gather obsolete weapons, libraries store infamous records, white school children are studiously taught to believe in the righteousness of the lost cause.

All this is done to keep the Klan-like Lost Cause myth alive. This is important for America’s radical (and racial) right, particularly when it came to one of the newest myth-creating event of our time: 6th of January 2021.

On that day, the right-wing crowd of seasoned militiamen, organized white power activists, Trump supporters, QAnon followers, conspiracy believers, etc., sought to end American democracy. On that day, five people died – including a police officer beaten by the right-wing crowd.

On that day too, many of them traded white robes and hoods for camouflage fatigues. Yet, some were united in the mythical misbelief that immigration, feminism, abortion, interracial marriage, and other social changes would lower the white birthrate and lead to the end of the white race.

In the case of the 6th of January attack, the common myth of a lone wolf so frequently metered out when it comes to right-wing extremists, white power terrorist, and adjacent Neo-Nazis could not be used – for once.

The lone wolf legend is often used to camouflage the right-wing networks that are behind almost all right-wing terrorist attacks. These attacks are carried out by white power believers, right-wing extremists, Neo-Nazis.

Right-wing terrorism is conducted by an organized group using a coordinated plan. Neither right-wing terrorists and mass killers Timothy McVeigh nor Behring Breivik nor the many others were lone wolfs.

It is the group and a right-wing ideology that unites the radical right for a common purpose and prepares them for right-wing terrorism. It demands an ideology, and perhaps more importantly, a myth to believe in. One of the most central lodestars for the right-wing extremist’s movement are the infamous Turner Diaries – a kind of a rulebook for right-wing terrorism.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh sold it on the gun-show circuit in the early 1990s. McVeigh slaughtered 168 people – including 19 young children in the building’s day-care center.

As so often, the official narrative focused on McVeigh as a lone wolf. Yet, the evidence of McVeigh’s involvement in the white power movement is too extensive to document in full here.

The same applies to Charlottesville (2017). Its right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazi terrorists were called very fine people by Donald Trump. Similarly, the attack on January 6, 2021 right-wing extremist mobs had the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, The Base, Boogaloo Boys, and the Atomwaffen Division. In both cases – Charlottesville and 6th of January attacks – there was no lone wolf. The lone wolf saga is wheeled out to smokescreen right-wing terrorism.

In the end, right-wing myths aren’t just about America First!, the free market, the New Deal, the Lost Cause, and the imaginary lone wolf. They have three functions: recruit new members into the ranks of the radical right; battle-harden those already recruited and prepare them for right-wing terrorism; and finally, to falsify what really happened.

The lone wolf fairy-tale seeks to disconnect right-wing extreme terrorism from right-wing myths dished up on a daily base. There should not be a link visible between right-wing myths and right-wing terrorism.

It pretends that right-wing myths and right-wing terrorism have nothing to do with each other. Just as we should believe that there is no link between Hayek, the free market, neoliberalism, Pinochet, and his Villa Grimaldi.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of German Conspiracy Fantasies.