Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, September 1, 2019 1:49 pm

Hit ’em with the chair

When I was a kid in Charlotte in the 1960s, my brothers, my friends and I watched a lot of pro wrestling on TV, which fact is essential context for what I’m about to say next: In this era, pleas for civility are the last refuge of people who desperately need to be hit with the chair.

As the journalist Eve Fairbanks points out in The Washington Post, conservatives, almost as if they’d all been sent the same list of talking points, have been on and on lately about being “reasonable” and “civil.” She links to many, many examples, almost all of which are premised on a fundamental misunderstanding about what’s actually going on in our society. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Fairbanks, as a senior at Yale, wrote a thesis on the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln and his political rivals on both sides of the issue of slavery. And today’s conservative rhetoric sounded so familiar to her that she thought she must have heard it somewhere before. Sure enough, there it was in her old research: The language of conservatives in 2019 is almost identical to that of antebellum defenders of slavery. She lays it out in her Post column.

I see another parallel: Both before the Civil War and today, the people defending the indefensible are the ones most insistent upon civility and reason and are trying very hard to cast their opponents as unreasonable and uncivil. In both instances, the people defending the indefensible are able to do so as the result of having amassed great power, much of it unmerited and obtained through dubious, if not evil, means.

The slavery example is self-evident. But what about today?

For the past 40 years, American conservatives, though a minority, have used their greater wealth to get even more money and more power, often at the expense of everyone else. They got the Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) to declare that money is speech, a category error that likely will be the downfall of the Republic if climate disaster or the Sweet Meteor of Death don’t get us first. They bought themselves congresscritters and legislators who have passed a number of huge tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy. The effect of those tax cuts has been the greatest upward transfer and concentration of wealth in history and the greatest income inequality in U.S. history. They have raped the planet, privatizing the profits while socializing the costs and making damn sure they had bought themselves a government that would let them do that, in search of more wealth — there’s roughly $27 trillion of proven carbon reserves still in the ground, and they will be damned if they’ll just write it off, just as slave owners insisted they were entitled not to write off the value of their slaves. They have insisted that health care is not a human right, but rather a consumer good on which they can profit as on few others. In what can only be called modern-day slavery, they are profiting off our correctional systems. They have sought to roll back the civil-rights advances we finally won a century after the 14th and 15th Amendments were ratified. And on and on. All of THAT is “unreasonable.” All of THAT is “uncivil.”

The people who opposed antebellum slavery were portrayed as radical, and indeed some of them were. But they weren’t wrong. And given the horrors of slavery, complaining about their incivility and lack of reason displayed nothing but moral stillbirth.

And so it is today.

Conservatives are pursuing policies that literally threaten the lives of me, my family, and more than 100 million other Americans who have pre-existing conditions and/or are people of color and/or are LGBTQ. And yet they want us to be reasonable and civil.

Screw that noise sideways. Pleas for civility are the last refuge of someone who desperately needs to be hit with the chair. Moreover, any Republican who thinks we need more civility needs to take it up with Newt Gingrich, whose GOPAC began the trend of instructing Republican political candidates to publicly characterize their unremarkable Democratic opponents as “extremist,” “sick” and “un-American.”

Moreover, as Fairbanks points out, conservative writer Ben Shapiro, to name just one example, likely knows and certainly doesn’t care that “ascrib(ing) right-wing anger to unwise left-wing provocation,” as Fairbanks says he does, is the blame-the-victim language of the domestic abuser.

(A note on that: Conservatives are trying to smear those who oppose white nationalists as “antifa,” which they believe to be an organized and violent movement. “Antifa” is simply short for “antifascist,” and the term encompasses everyone from the first wave at Omaha Beach to any American today who opposes the joined forces of fascism and white supremacy. You will seen the term thrown around even by journalists who should know better, but you can safely dismiss anyone who uses it in that way as at best a propagandist and at worst a fascist, particularly if that person works for the Trump administration.)

I’ve said for a long time that anyone doubting the existence of eternity need only ponder the capacity of conservatives for playing the victim. Indeed, I’ve thought for a long time that that might be the most important, and is certainly the most enduring, dynamic of postwar American politics.

I was wrong. Fairbanks’s column shows that it’s the most enduring dynamic of American politics, period. She doesn’t remark on it in her column, but it’s visible throughout so many of the sources she cites (and in fairness, she may have thought it was so obvious she didn’t even need to mention it) — an overweaning mentality of victimhood among conservative antebellum “thinkers” and modern-day conservatives alike.

And why do they feel that way? The answer is in the old saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s the fundamental misunderstanding I referred to up at the top of the post. They do it because they can feel their privilege slipping and/or because they can hear and feel the rest of us coming for it. And on some level they’re terrified that we’re going to treat them the way they have treated us. I have no intention of doing this, but given the outrages they have foisted upon us in the past 40 years, from destroying the middle class to sacrificing our children to the Baal of the NRA to lighting the planet on actual fire, I can offer no guarantee regarding anyone else.

And at this point nothing would surprise me. Because when you call things like decent, affordable health care and a strong public education system “socialism” long enough, eventually socialism starts to sound like a good idea. And when you work your ass off for a lifetime and still can’t manage to obtain adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education for your family and equal treatment in society because of every way the system has been rigged by conservatives in the past 40 years, so does “eat the rich.”

UPDATE, 9/1: This was posted before I became aware that Democratic presidential Beto O’Rourke had been quoted as saying, “Yes, this is fucked up,” talking about the federal government’s inaction on mass shootings such as the one Saturday in Odessa, Texas, that claimed eight lives. When the inevitable criticism came, he had the perfect response:

 

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Saturday, August 16, 2014 1:52 pm

Economist: You can’t vote for a sane conservative because there aren’t any; or, Caution: Contents may have disappeared during shipping..

Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong:

THERE ARE NO ATTRACTIVE MODERN CONSERVATIVES BECAUSE CONSERVATISM SIMPLY IS NOT ATTRACTIVE. DEAL WITH IT!! (Yelling in the original — Lex)

You can see this most clearly if you take a close look at Edmund Burke. Edmund Burke does not believe that Tradition is to be Respected. He believes that good traditions are to be respected. When Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France makes the argument that Britons should respect the organic political tradition of English liberty that has been inherited from the past, he whispers under his breath that the only reason we should respect the Wisdom of the Ancestors is that in this particular case Burke thinks that the Ancestors–not his personal ancestors, note–were wise.

Whenever Burke thought that the inherited political traditions were not wise, the fact that they were the inherited Wisdom of the Ancestors cut no ice with him at all. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that they would conquer, torture, and rob wogs whenever and wherever they were strong enough to do so. That tradition cut no ice with Edmund Burke when he was trying to prosecute Warren Hastings. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that all power flowed to Westminster. That tradition cut no ice with Burke when he was arguing for conciliation with and a devolution of power to the American colonists. It was one of the traditions and institutions of Englishmen that Ireland was to be plundered and looted for the benefit of upwardly-mobile English peers-to-be. That tradition, too, cut no ice with Burke.

Even in Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke doesn’t argue that Frenchmen should build on their own political traditions–the traditions of Richelieu and Louis XIV, that is. He argues–well, let’s roll the videotape:

Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: We [in Britain] procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on account of their age; and on account of those from whom they are descended…. You [in France] might, if you pleased, have profited of our example, and have given to your recovered freedom a correspondent dignity. Your privileges, though discontinued, were not lost to memory. Your constitution… suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, and in all the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. … In your old [E]states [General] you possessed that variety of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your community was happily composed; you had all that combination, and all that opposition of interests, you had that action and counteraction which, in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe…. Through that diversity of members and interests, general liberty had as many securities as there were separate views…. [B]y pressing down the whole by the weight of a real monarchy, the separate parts would have been prevented from warping and starting from their allotted places.

You had all these advantages in your antient [E]states [General]…. If the last generations of your country appeared without much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a pious predilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized in them a standard of virtue and wisdom…. Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You would not have chosen to consider the French as… a nation of low-born servile wretches until the emancipating year of 1789…. [Y]ou would not have been content to be represented as a gang of Maroon slaves, suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage….

Would it not… have been wiser to have you thought… a generous and gallant nation, long misled… by… fidelity, honour, and loyalty… that you were not enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition… [but] by a principle of public spirit, and that it was your country you worshipped, in the person of your king? Had you made it to be understood… that you were resolved to resume your ancient [liberties,] privileges[, and immunities]… you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world. You would have rendered the cause of liberty venerable in the eyes of every worthy mind in every nation. You would have shamed despotism from the earth…

Burke’s argument is not that France in 1789 should have followed its ancestral traditions. Burke’s argument is, instead, that France in 1789 should have dug into its past until it found a moment when institutions were better than in 1788, and drawn upon that usable past in order to buttress the present revolutionary moment. This isn’t an intellectual argument about how to decide what institutions are good. It is a practical-political argument about how to create good institutions and then buttress and secure them by making them facts on the ground.

So Edmund Burke, among the most revered conservative thinkers in Western thought, would have no truck with stupidity, insanity, or even counterproductivity. Point me to a single conservative political leader in the United States today about whom we can say the same. Go on. I’ll wait.

By the way, DeLong reposted this on Friday. He originally posted it in 2008. Plus la change …

Thursday, September 12, 2013 6:20 am

What’s hippie punching, you ask? Or, Cleekian conservatism

Balloon Juice commenter Cleek, unbeknownst to me, laid out this most basic of conservative philosophies some time back:

Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily.

I hearby dub this school of thought Cleekian conservatism. Now that you have a name for it, see how often you find it popping up.

Monday, November 21, 2011 8:58 pm

David Frum: the most oblivious man alive

He’s just now figured out that the GOP is batshit.

Sorry, Dave, but it’s a little late.

Sunday, August 1, 2010 7:29 pm

Dante’s conservatism …

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:29 pm
Tags:

… by Batocchio at Hullabaloo:

You can click on the image to read the accompanying elaboration, but for grins, here are some examples:

  • First circle: Racist teabagger asshat Mark Williams.
  • Second circle: David Brooks of The New York Times, who pens apologiae for the monarchy when he’s not sneezing on the salad bars at Applebee’s.
  • Third circle: Pete Peterson and anyone who thinks Ebeneezer Scrooge, pre-Christmas Eve, was the hero of the story.
  • Fourth circle: Basically, all the teabaggers, not just the overtly racist ones like Williams, plus assorted other wingnuts.
  • Fifth circle: The torture apologists, Christian Dominionists and all the other people who think bringing back public immolations is just peachy.

Note, as Batocchio does, that this is a criticism of conservatives, not Republicans: Many Democrats could be found within at least one of these circles, and a (vanishingly) few Republicans can be found outside all of them.

Monday, January 4, 2010 6:14 am

Thought for the day

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 6:14 am
Tags: ,

A lesson in recent history:

Don’t forget the naughts, because this decade, no matter what anyone on the right might say, was conservatism on trial. You want less taxes? You got less taxes. You want less regulation? You got less regulation. Open markets? Wide open. An illusuion of security in place of rights? Hey, presto. Think we should privatize war by handing unlimited power given to military contractors so they can kick butt and take names? Kiddo, we passed out boots and pencils by the thousands. Everything, everything, that ever showed up on a drooled-over right wing wish list got implemented — with a side order of Freedom Fries.

They will try to disown it, and God knows if I was responsible for this mess I’d be disowning it, too. But the truth is that the conservatives got everything they wanted in the decade just past, everything that they’ve claimed for forty years would make America “great again”. They didn’t fart around with any “red dog Republicans.” They rolled over their moderates and implemented a conservative dream.

What did we get for it? We got an economy in ruins, a government in massive debt, unending war, and the repudiation of the world. There’s no doubt that Republicans want you to forget the last decade, because if you remember… if you remember when you went down to the water hole and were jumped by every lunacy that ever emerged from the wet dreams of Grover Norquist and Dick Cheney, well, it’s not likely that you’d give them a chance to do it again.

And they will. Given half a chance — less than half — they’ll do it again, only worse. Because that’s the way conservatism works. Remember when the only answer to every economic problem was “cut taxes?” We have a surplus. Good, let’s cut taxes. We have a deficit. Hey, cut taxes even more! That little motto was unchanging even when was clear that the tax cuts were increasing the burden on everyone but a wealthy few. That’s just a subset of the great conservative battle whine which is now and forever “we didn’t go far enough.” If deregulation led to a crash, it’s because we didn’t deregulate enough. If the wars aren’t won, it’s because we haven’t started enough wars. If there are people still clinging to their rights, it’s because we haven’t done enough to make them afraid.

Forget the naughts, and you’ll forget that conservatives had another chance to prove all their ideas, and that their ideas utterly and completely failed. Again.

My only quibble with this post is that, strictly speaking, some of what was done wasn’t “conservative” as the word historically has been defined. But it was irrevocably tied to people who described and marketed themselves as conservative and considered (their notion of) conservatism an unalloyed virtue.

And, granted, for a fortunate few of them it was. The rest of us? Not so much.

And they will be back, aided by an ostensibly liberal media that in fact imposes a much higher burden of proof on the rational, on the fact- and outcome-based, than on the Randian fantasists.

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