Awhile back, I came upon an article on how conservatism “has curdled beyond recognition” (which you can view here) What I wasn’t prepared for was how the coming weeks would show how true this had really become. Conservatism hasn’t simply curdled, it has festered from myriad open wounds. Contempt and hatred now rule the right wing party.
There was a time when conversation was a voice in defense of the interests of domestic finances with its opposition to rapid social change a secondary characteristic. As social justice movements gained momentum during the turn of the 20th century, with women’s suffrage, African American rights, feminism and the birth pangs of the gay rights movement starting to make tangible promise in a United States which had now guaranteed equal rights to every American citizen and now seemingly having no way of making exceptions on the classes which were so clearly undeserving, the right wing began to lean more and more heavily upon social commentary, specifically resentment and disdain for those classes which were now threatening the established way of life for white middle-class heterosexual Christian America.
It was in the 1970s and 1980s that this became intentional, rather than a secondary characteristic of the opposition class. The Republican party began using purposefully coded language to evoke contemptuousness and righteousness against others by hiding allusions to racism within their political messages, utilizing concepts such as states’ rights standing in opposition of an overbearing federal government, and drumming up fear and outrage over criminal elements being allowed to run rampant in urban environments. The Republican party capitalized upon, fostered, and encouraged unfettered hatred of African Americans, gay Americans, women who wouldn’t be subservient to men, and religious groups which defied protestant traditions.
None of these were new concepts. Americans have always, always engaged in zealous strife with people unlike themselves, and going back, the same behavior was ubiquitous to the British empire before them. It is present throughout so very much of the world and always has been. So why, then, does it hurt so much to see it unleashed with so little restraint today?
I think it’s because I came to expect better of people. Seeing the progress made toward the causes I championed and the number of people willing to throw support behind rights which had been considered exceptionally controversial not so very long ago, I had been lulled into assuming that progress was now inevitable, and the voice of conservatism was now reduced to dying embers alongside a fire of historical significance — a reminder, but no longer a threat.
I no longer think this, and the illusion of unanimity has been painfully shattered. While I remain confident that there are somewhat more people in favor of progressivism than conservatism, I can no longer allow myself the soothing delusion of thinking that conservatives are merely a voice of opposition casting sound and fury into the ocean of inevitable, eternal waves. I have seen too much now, and it is too common to ignore the obvious pattern of thought and behavior.
Donald Trump represents the current pinnacle of decades’ worth of engendered contempt and disgust. His is a voice which speaks directly to that segment of the populace which has been nurtured on sneering disdain for liberals and their endless crusades for sin and voice, wasted money spent on welfare queens and lazy people who could work and merely refuse, and billions upon billions of dollars spent overseas propping up failed civilizations of uncultured savages. Until, and even for awhile after the election, I had believed this voice spoke to a minority. To an extent I still do, but now I recognize that minority for what it is.
Open any recent news thread and you’ll see them numbering in the hundreds or thousands, depending on the target audience of the writing. Concerns about Trump’s conflicts of interest and the laughably inadequate way he allegedly resolved them, the constitutionality of his executive orders, the interference in the election posed by foreign governments, are all brushed aside by a monolithic school of thought which doesn’t so much as reject the evidence of their leader’s lack of fitness for his position as utterly ignore it.
The difference is crucial. Theirs is not a mind which examines evidence and finds it wanting; they do not even regard the source of the information as itself too suspect to trust. To this new brand of conservative, the fact that the information causes dismay for liberals is itself proof that it is to be disregarded, even lauded, without regard for its actual content. Policies are fast-tracked through this conservative school of thought without interest for their long OR short-term impact based purely on whether they seem to cause harm to their liberal opponents. Financial policies are deemed suitable based purely on the cries of alarm they receive. Indeed, the very structure of our government is being reshaped and many conservatives have no other remark to make upon the fact other than the inevitable, “Suck it up snowflakes!”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the surprise and upset this has caused numerous conservatives, who until discovering how badly it would hurt them, had apparently never found it worth considering whether liberals had a point that it would, indeed, hurt them. “Stop bitching about how much you want free stuff!” they would proclaim, and now some of them have abruptly discovered how much they depended on the ACA’s protections for their own family. Until then, the fact that liberals “cried” over its loss was apparently justification to be rid of it as quickly as possible.
America is nearing the precipice of another civil war; this is no longer even remotely hyperbole. Trump has specifically targeted multiple states for federal intervention, financial and potentially military, and in response, those states have declared their intent to revolt against his fascist (for no other word adequately describes it) regime. The balance between states and federal government has always been a delicate once since the fourteenth amendment reduced the spectrum of powers accorded to state governments by the tenth amendment. Alliances are being drawn up between states grimly contemplating a future of being surrounded by state and federal enemies, and yet the modern conservative is only amused and contemptuous of the possibilities, rallying quickly to another invocation of Trump’s increasingly ironic slogan. “Go crying back to your safe places, snowflakes!”
American will not be great under this regime; it becomes doubtful that America will even survive it, at least in the form we know it now. This morning Trump’s regime declared that the Executive office is not subject to the rulings of federal courts, effectively establishing a declaration that one of the major branches of government has no power to curtail unconstitutional laws, one of its primary purposes. As executive orders bypass Congress entirely, this would mean a total lack of opposition for any order Trump intends to sign. The fact that white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer Steve Bannon (who has recently received unprecedented promotions) has been drafting these executive orders falls upon deaf ears. “You lost! Deal with it!”
Some of it is authoritarianism, which Bob Altemeyer detailed thoroughly in his 2006 book The Authoritarians, available free from his website here
But I don’t think that’s all of it anymore. I think there is a vocal, powerful segment of our population which has reached a singularity point of unspeakable contempt for everyone outside their small, fragile bubbles. They can no longer even remotely tolerate anyone unlike themselves, and unlike the “delicate snowflakes” they so constantly deride, their response is not to withdraw to shelter each other and themselves, but to expand outward with vicious zeal and glee at the harm they cause. They strive to destroy, to consume, to ruin everything held sacred by those they so despise, and they only realize the danger caused by their actions if they themselves suffer a personal blow as a result of them. Until then, they are immune to criticism, to logic, to empathy, and to human decency. “Make America great again!”
I fear for the future, because I have no notion how to combat this virulent strain of diseased thought. There is no other word to describe it except a kind of insanity, one purposefully divorced from reality and incapable of perceiving how, one which poses an explicit threat to itself and others, and one which, heartwrenchingly, seeks to destroy any means of treatment or recovery for itself. I truly do not wish to see bloodshed between any people, yet I cannot conceive of a way to render powerless that movement which would seek the legal murder of others in a world where the law is ineffectual and the system itself has become tyrannous.
Now is truly the time for unity, yet it may also be a time for drawing up battle plans, forming alliances, and preparing to weather an onslaught of legal and extralegal terrorism wrought by bigots, Nazis, white nationalists, and self-serving opportunists glad to use all of the above as long as they need never deal with the fallout. We must come together and watch with unflinching perspicacity for every action which goes against our principles, and call these out without fail. Let it be known how dire this threat is becoming. Shout it from the mountaintops until every last wavering conservative comes to realize their support is in error.
And then we will have to deal with the rest, and I pray there is enough left of the world to do so with what tools we then have remaining.