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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