DENVER – Shortly after John Roberts, the conservative United States Supreme Court Chief Justice, sided with the Court’s four liberal justices to uphold President Barack Obama’s major health-care reform, he joked that he was leaving the country for the “impregnable island fortress” of Malta. Roberts was referring not so much to the mainstream media’s speculation about the reasons for his surprise vote, but rather to the fury and thirst for retribution among conservative bloggers and pundits.
Indeed, “traitor” was one of their common epithets, as were “coward” and “sellout.” Real-estate mogul Donald Trump, with his customary charm, thought it appropriate to refer to the brilliant and scholarly Roberts as a “dummy.”
The apoplectic rage that followed the Supreme Court’s decision on Obama’s health-care legislation is becoming routine in America’s public discourse, and it is a bipartisan malady. Though it may have started on the left – in response to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush – it has become increasingly a right-wing phenomenon. Radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (who recently signed a $100 million deal to spew more hatred on the airwaves) dwarf liberal commentators in audience size. The age of information and communications has given way to an age of anger.
Of course, this is not the first time that anger and fear have ruled US public discourse: Father Charles Coughlin’s toxic radio broadcasts in the 1930’s paved the way for today’s stars, who would feel similarly at home during the Red Scare of the 1920’s or the McCarthy era in the early 1950’s. But this contemporary ugly mood, unlike those times, seems to be independent of the real threats that America faces in the world: a weak global economy, terrorism, failed states, and protracted wars, to name a few. Americans have been angry for some time now, and their ire shows no sign of abating.