Week 3 Readings, “The Fragmented Responses to Terror”

The focus of this week’s readings is the fragmented political responses to terror in the United States, and specifically the attacks of 9/11. It is clear that the September 11 crisis and War on Terrorism in general, highlight and heighten the divisions within the U.S. political spectrum, and that the balance of fear, reality, and intent are seen from diametrically opposing positions for different factions-of both the right and left.

Matthew Lyons’ article on fragmented nationalism focuses in on the various right-wing movements that have emerged throughout the U.S.’s history and the specifics of their varying responses to the attacks on 9/11. Lyons walks us through the developments of these movements, which are rooted in historic nationalist philosophies, and examines the interplay  between war, racism, and the violence produced by modern manifestations of nationalism. Foreign Policy offers an interesting article that supplements this conversation of nationalism and some of the paradoxes we’ve been discussing in class.  I found Lyons’ detailed account of the three nationalistic ideological currents (racial nationalism, business nationalism, and American globalist nationalism) and their movement throughout the century to be extremely informative and provide an interesting basis for the main pillars of right-wing ideology that emerged when the conservative coalition fell apart after the Cold War. He elaborates on the different foreign policy initiatives of these factions and specifically how those policies were apparent in the responses to 9/11.

Lyons asserts that the U.S.’s political right’s response to 9/11 embodied the disagreements on key questions about our nationhood. He examines the development of four major right-wing factions after the Cold War, offering a complete description of each of the factions: neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, the Christian Right, and the Far Right. He then outlines how each of the factions conceptualized and responded to 9/11, as well as the internal divisions between the four of them in relation to nationalism’s multilayered history. I found it particularly interesting that Lyons highlights how each rightist group took advantage of 9/11 to place blame where they faced opposition and gain momentum where they felt the attack supported their beliefs. Although in very fragmented ways, this national tragedy was strategically used by these groups to fuel their ideologies and further polarize them from not only the left, but from each other. As Lyons puts it, “Right-wing nationalism did not speak with one voice either before or after September 11, 2001.” How does this idea apply to the right-wing ideologies today? Are we still arguing that rightists have not found one voice? The fragmentation surrounding today’s politics and Trump’s ideologies certainly suggest so.

Baker’s article, Balancing Terror and Reality in State of the Union Address takes another look at political response to terror, specifically focusing on Obama’s handling of the sense of threat and his portrayal of that sense to the American public. The fear of terrorism has perverted the American public’s perspective, requiring presidential figures to be extremely careful when communicating the issue on a national level. Critics of Obama argue that he did not take the threat of terrorism seriously, while the reverse argued it was crucial to not overplay the sense of threat in comparison to other, more likely senses of danger. This article we looked at in class last week identifies these other dangers and challenges the ways the U.S. reacted to 9/11. Where is the balance between accepting the irrationality of Americans about terrorism and not overplaying the sense of threat as a U.S. official?

Through both articles we’ve read for this week, it is clear that there is a divide between the pre and post-9/11 American mindsets. There is a sense of irrationality that pervades the threat of terrorism in the United States and realistically I don’t see it as something the federal government can ignore. How is the fragmented nationalism in this country contributing to that irrationality, if at all? Are the factions of right-wing ideology that Lyons describes playing a role in the way America’s mindset has shifted post-9/11?

14 thoughts on “Week 3 Readings, “The Fragmented Responses to Terror”

  • February 3, 2018 at 11:17 am

    Tegan, thank you for this precise and well thought out summation/critique of the reading. I too found it interesting how the various movements sought to utilize the symbolism generated by 9/11 to further their own goals. We discussed in class how the event itself was highly rhetorical and symbolic in nature, and it makes sense that these effects were used again and again to reinforce different value systems and beliefs. I remember learning for the first time back in high school about the paleoconservatives discussed by Lyons. Essentially this group represented the more traditional conservative viewpoint that we should not be engaging in policies of “world policing” and it is a shame they could not use 9/11 as a form of rhetorical proof of the problems associated with foreign intervention. While Bush, and many others, said Al-Qaeda attacked the United States because of ideals of freedom, more realistically their attacks were aimed at disrupting a world power. A world power that had just recently engaged in middle eastern conflict. The more recent attacks we have seen like those in NYC and Paris with civilian trucks have only further highlighted the impossibility of preventing these small scale terror strikes. I thought Baker’s article did a solid job of highlighting the reasoning Obama chose not to focus and incite fear of terrorism. A middle ground between Obama’s stance and the paleoconservatives seems to me like the only logical stand one can take in response to terrorisms engaging, yet minimal, threat to the people of the United States.

    • February 4, 2018 at 3:54 pm

      Thanks Collin, I agree with your point about the more recent, smaller-scaled terror strikes contributing to the impossibility of preventing terror. While presidents have no way to prevent these attacks, their verbiage that comes after consists of a very delicate balance of acknowledging the events, paying respect to those affected, addressing the attacker or intent of the event, and providing the nation with some sense of comfort- a tough thing to accomplish eloquently when dealing with such a sensitive issue.

      • February 5, 2018 at 8:57 am

        Definitely a tough line to walk, especially when one is aiming to avoid future conflict. The we will strike “fire and fury” argument is somewhat easier to make it seems, Americans like retribution just look at all the Taken, John Wick copycat films we have popping up…

  • February 3, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    Hey Tegan,

    I also found Lyons’ detailed outline of the three nationalistic ideological currents informative. Specifically, I found it useful (as well as sometimes frustrating and disturbing) to trace how each faction used 9/11 to justify/gain further support for their own beliefs — especially when those beliefs only projected fear and hatred and lacked evidence. While some of these varying arguments seemed to me clearly false (for example the Christian Right’s suggestion that 9/11 was God’s punishment for having lost God’s way and straying from Christian principles), others seem strategic and complicated enough, though to me still wrong, that they gathered more public support. We can see these latter kinds of arguments in politics today. An example of this kind is the claim that “if our leaders continue to sell Islam as a peaceful, wonderful faith, we may begin to see large numbers of conversations” (Lyons, 325). Arguments like this use fear to encourage the public to buy into a harmful generalization. More generally, this reading lead me to think about the tendency for groups to use crises and tragedies for their own benefit, and how this further emphasizes the need for people trained in rhetoric — both for critiquing arguments, and for producing fact-based, productive arguments.

    One thought I kept having while reading this was why can many Right-wing groups use the tragedy of 9/11 to gain support for their beliefs and efforts, but it doesn’t seem like many Left-wing or moderate groups have been able to do the same with legislation pertaining to gun control. After each shooting, but particularly after Sandy Hook, I was confident that it would be the tipping point for stricter laws. While some measures have been taken, none have been nearly as defined as our nationally declared “War on Terror”. Maybe the distinction there rests within whatever is being deemed the problem (terrorists/whatever associations we have with them vs. guns/those using the guns), and whether the public/government has an interest or not in siding with that argument.

    • February 4, 2018 at 4:46 pm

      Katie, you bring up an interesting point about how Right-wing groups are more successful at achieving support for their beliefs post-tragedy than Left-wing groups are. I’m intrigued by the reasoning for this, maybe it has something to do with the extremity to which some of theses Right-wing groups that Lyons outlined go. Perhaps they are so far on the right with some of their beliefs that their responses post-tragedy are all consuming and leave little room for agency on the other side.

  • February 4, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    Thank you for this summary and your reflections. I appreciate how in your analysis of Baker’s article, you highlight the careful nature of presidential rhetoric in responding to terrorist attacks or the perceived threat of terror. Combined, I think that these two readings for the week illustrate a very important reality of political rhetoric: when one prominent and powerful rhetorician on the political scene (i.e., the Commander in Chief) has trouble articulating and promoting a particular response to threats both real and perceived, other rhetorical actors can gain political and rhetorical salience by taking advantage of the rhetorical gaps and discontents in the official rhetoric. Lyons’s article discusses how various right-wing nationalists have attempted to provide extreme rhetorical alternatives to whatever “establishment” they are railing against, whether this is civil rights, the welfare state, or government regulations. Additionally, Lyons notes that neoconservatives seek to fill an ideological “void” that they see. For example, Lyons notes that “to neoconservatives, the War on Terrorism filled the void left by the end of the Cold War,” framing this war as “overriding a necessity as were the defeats of fascism and Soviet communism” (313). From this article, it seems that these various forms of right-wing nationalism draw their rhetorical power from the exigences that they reference. However, it seems that Obama’s rhetoric presented a frustration for such right-wing agendas: as Baker hypothesizes, though Obama will not state any of this directly in his addresses, “the news media is complicit in inflating the sense of danger” and “the Islamic State does not pose and existential threat to the United States” (Baker).

    • February 5, 2018 at 10:48 am

      Emily, I’m really interested in your point about how when one prominent rhetorician has trouble articulating a response to tragedy, other rhetorical figures are given room to step in and assert their beliefs. I really agree with this idea and think it nicely sums up the combination of the difficulty presidents face when addressing the nation about terrorist attacks as well as the presence of these right-wing groups that Lyons brings up and how they see tragedy as an opportunity to further their agendas. As I was reading this, I wondered if and how there could be any way to create a more concrete protocol for presidents when addressing the nation after terrorist attacks, but I’m afraid that’s just morally and logistically impossible.

  • February 4, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    Tegan, as you mentioned and as the articles described, one of the primary goals of modern terrorism is to evoke a widespread sense of fear. While the attacks and their targets are aimed to accomplish this, the modern media and the government’s responses also contribute to the circulation and framing of the attacks and the fear associated with them. As Baker stated in the beginning of his article, Balancing Terror and Reality in State of the Union Address, “Americans are more likely to die in a car crash, drown in a bathtub or be struck by lightning than be killed by a terrorist.” When we discussed these statistics in class last week I was surprised to find how much lower the deaths from terrorism were than many routine and everyday occurrences. This is due to the far that is constantly associated with terror attacks and the reality that people never see them coming. While people can rationalize that they won’t drown in a bathtub because they have taken plenty of baths without issue, terror attacks seem to be able to target anyone, anywhere. This once again is an example of the power of framing since the rhetoric surrounding terrorism helps to accomplish its agenda. Especially in post 9/11 America, fear rhetoric dominates the topic of terrorism. Playing into this fear is the right-wing approach that is so aggressive in its anti-terrorism stance. These right-wing groups use this fear of terrorism to help further their agenda as well as they look to strengthen national security and the military forces of the US.

    • February 5, 2018 at 10:54 am

      Brendan, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of fear rhetoric and how/if it plays into the agenda of terrorism, and I think your comment illustrates this point well. We’ve been talking about this idea a lot in class and how the media portrays terrorism in a certain light that contributes to the same feeling and atmosphere in the country post-terrorist attack. I’m wondering how and if that portrayal will ever change. In addition, I’m wondering how and if that portrayal would be diametrically different had the attacks of 9/11 hadn’t occurred. Just a thought…

  • February 4, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    I enjoyed reading your well written responses to this week’s readings, you offered an insightful critique to the Lyon reading and comprehension of fragmented nationalism. I thought it was also interesting how each group took advantage of 9/11 as well. To answer your question (and Lyon’s), I think that we are still arguing that rightest have not found one voice– if you reference the dominant party that monopolizes capitol hill and inconsistencies within conservatism. The article you attached supports Lyon’s claims well and even talks about the emerging ideology of Trumpism, referenced as a deep form of paleo-conservativism. I thought the article also gave a nice comprehensive historical background of paleoconservatism, which helped highlight the emergence of the ideology and its resurgence under the Trump administration.

    I found it frustrating while reading that the factions so easily influenced the governments responses to 9/11. Lyon explained how, “…the neocons saw a chance to rally Americans behind another global crusade against Evil, with “’terrorism’ or ‘radical Islam’…” (Lyon 329). They played on the trope of fear, which we have talked about in class, to stir emotions and create a fevering nationalism. It is interesting to see that fear does not only affect the American people, but the people who govern as well. if we jump to the New York Times article, it stated, “…Americans are more likely to die in a car crash, drown in a bathtub or be struck by lightning than be killed by a terrorist” (NTY). This is puzzling because the news or the government does not create this sense of calm while publically talking about terrorism, which consequently plays into the far right ideologies and strengthens nationalism. I wonder if anyone else sees how it is perplexing that fear influences the government and American people?

    • February 5, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Alex, you bring up an interesting point that I hadn’t thought about surrounding the idea of fear rhetoric; that the fear instilled by terrorists and attacks in the world not only affects American people but also the people in positions of power. I guess I’ve never considered that so much of how the government responds to these attacks is influenced by this fear and perhaps the far right ideologies that are also contributing fear through their extreme language and beliefs. I think it’s easy for us to assume that we the people, are scared by this idea of terrorism, but that the government knows how to handle it and will ease those fears. What we’re starting to see, especially in today’s presidential administration, is that the government is often playing a role in creating that fear.

  • February 5, 2018 at 3:49 am

    Hey Tegan,
    I want to comment on your interpretation of the Baker’s article, Balancing Terror and Reality in State of the Union Address. I agree with your interpretation of the article and the fact that the political rhetoric around terrorism is very tricky to interpret because it used as political propaganda which can largely affect the credibility of a statement. Bush used the tragic incident, that was 9/11, to his advantage on waging a whole new type of war on terror and saw his approval ratings go through the roof as he convinced America to support a war on terror that will never end, in my opinion. The reason I say it will never end is that, the war on terror is a war of fear and not about territory. When the public opinion shifted about the war on terror, Obama used his election rhetoric message of “ending” the war on terror to get elected. However, under Obama, while there were a few steps taken to reduce war effort it did not make a big difference because he was not successful in delivering what he promised and in a way sucked America deeper into this war of fear. The war on terror has been used to sway audiences since the 9/11 tragedy. It is a shame that it is continuing to be used for political propaganda but as I mentioned in the last class, it seems like USA has such an elaborate defense set up that that it needs to be at war to justify all the expenditure and the election of Trump shows no signs of slowing down this war from his rhetorical approach to it.

    • February 5, 2018 at 11:09 am

      Vishy, I am intrigued by your point that the war on terror is one that will never end, as it really is a war about fear and not territory. If this is true, which I definitely see the argument for, I am curious as to how the war will continue to develop in new ways that we haven’t necessarily seen before. We spoke a lot about drone strikes and other technological developments that are contributing to the idea of “clean war”, and I’m curious about other advancements that will urge and take the place of the traditional territorial war that we are used to. If this war on terror is indeed one that will never end, I’m sure the advancements in military warfare will continue to grow with it.

  • March 20, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Very insightful analysis here, Tegan. These readings really seem to provide a clear and thorough framework for understanding some of the more indirect effects of September 11th and the impact that this memory has had in our political arena. Your summary of Baker’s article does well to describe the unique paradox in which President Obama found himself during his two terms, as a weak stance on terror was more politically tenable but less popular among voters. I especially liked how, in your analysis and summary of Lyon’s piece, you refer to his three branches of modern nationalism, and how they differ from one another. I too found this to be a useful framework for understanding how the notion of ‘nationalism’ becomes manifested all across the country, in different ways and through different symbols. This analysis brought me to consider what the most prominent of notable types of nationalism are in today’s America, and which of these types (racial, economic, and globalist) has been the most heavily perpetuated by Donald Trump and his administration. It would seem to me that Lyon’s ‘American Globalist nationalism’ has taken on new life in 2018, as President Trump continually espouses a rhetoric of ‘America first’ that is reminiscent of the ideologies that played into the Cold war. This notion of ‘globalist nationalism’ is worth keeping in mind as we move forward in the semester, as we need to consider the ways in which conservative policies are oriented towards maintaining this archaic cold war mindset of good vs evil.

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