Tag Archives: rightwing

Who Are We #2

Us versus Them. It’s tribal, a way of approaching life that has–unfortunately– persisted through centuries. For most of those centuries, the major divisions have taken the form of national boundaries, although religion and skin color have been close behind.

In our increasingly globalized world, however, perceptions of who “we” are–and perceptions of the threats posed by “them”– are changing. The identity of the “tribe” to which one belongs is no longer totally dependent upon nationality or even skin color, although religious beliefs remain a potent part of what we might call the New World Disorder.

I was struck by some statistics in a recent New York Times column.The author was considering the genesis and character of pro-Putin/pro-autocrat sentiment on the Right.

It may feel shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising that many Republican leaders and conservative elites think the American president is a more dangerous enemy than the Russian autocrat. There is an influential tradition on the right of idolizing Putin as a defender of white Christian values against the onslaught of secular, “leftist” liberalism. In 2013, for instance, Pat Buchanan, a leading voice on the “paleoconservative” traditionalist right, described Putin as “one of us,” an ally in what he saw as the defining struggle of our era, “with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite”. Similarly, in 2014, famous evangelist Franklin Graham lauded Putin for having “taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda” – an agenda Barack Obama was supposedly pursuing in the US.

After the 2016 election, the simmering admiration for Putin morphed into GOP orthodoxy, with Donald Trump himself leading the Republican party’s pro-Russia turn. This rapprochement shaped the right well beyond conservative elites. Among voters in general, support for Donald Trump correlates strongly with a favorable opinion of Putin, and Americans who define the US as a “Christian nation” have a much more favorable view of Putin’s Russia. As recently as January 2022, Putin had a significantly higher approval rating among Republicans than Joe Biden.

The author followed those two paragraphs with a litany of far Right statements confirming that worldview: Steve Bannon declaring his support for Putin because “Putin ain’t woke, he is anti-woke;”  Christian nationalist Republican Lauren Witzke (a Delaware Republican candidate for Senate in 2020)  asserting that she supports Putin because he protects “our Christian values. I identify more with Russian, with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.”  Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers is quoted as saying “I stand with Christians worldwide and not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face”; in case you (inexplicably) missed the anti-Semitic tropes in that statement, she then described Ukrainian president Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, as “a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.”

There were several others–and of course we all know what Tucker Carlson has had to say.

This critique has basically become dogma on the right: a radically “un-American” woke Left is out to destroy the country – and has already succeeded in undermining the nation considerably, especially its “woke, emasculated military,” as Texas senator Ted Cruz put it; a weak west foolishly “focused on expanding its national debt and exploding the gender binary”, according to rightwing activist Ben Shapiro.

For these culture warriors, the message is clear: the democracies of the West had it coming; they’ve been weakened by liberal decadence and “woke culture.”

Those fighting the so-called “woke” culture celebrated Trump’s election as a success in that culture war–as proof that the forces of reaction would ultimately prevail.

Rightwingers everywhere understand the transnational dimension as well as the world-historic significance of the current fight over democracy more clearly than many people on the left: is it possible to establish a stable multiracial, pluralistic democracy? Such a political, social and cultural order has indeed never existed. There have been several stable, fairly liberal democracies – but either they have been culturally and ethnically homogeneous to begin with; or there has always been a pretty clearly defined ruling group: a white man’s democracy, a racial caste democracy, a “herrenvolk” democracy. A truly multiracial, pluralistic democracy in which an individual’s status was not determined to a significant degree by race, gender, or religion? I don’t think that’s ever been achieved anywhere. It’s a vision that reactionaries abhor – to them, it would be the end of “western civilization”. And they are determined to fight back by whatever means necessary.

We are about to see what happens when “we”–the despised, “woke” humans who want to live in that “stable multiracial, pluralistic democracy”–are targeted and opposed by “them,” the neighbors and fellow-citizens) who view that desire with fear and contempt.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore….

There’s A Monster Under The Bed!

I’ve given up trying to understand the anti-vaccine crazies. The arguments they pose are nonsensical: “I don’t know what’s in them!” (They don’t know what’s in the hot dogs they eat, among a million other things.) “There’s a chip inserted by Bill Gates!” (Yes, it’s in the cell phone you cheerfully carry!) “My friend’s brother got diabetes after getting his shot!” (“After this, therefore because of this” is one of the oldest logical fallacies…). And don’t even get me started on the claims that requiring sensible public health measures violates the Constitution– people who insist government can require a woman to carry a pregnancy to term while arguing that government lacks authority to require people to get vaccinated, are beyond the reach of reason.)

Logic and reason, clearly, have nothing to do with it. 

I was recently sharing my frustration with the young woman who cuts my hair, who told me that her sister– a nurse in a local hospital –is equally frustrated. And angry. According to her sister, the hospital is coping with overflow conditions caused almost entirely by unvaccinated people, and they are not just sick, but unpleasant and irrational. A large number of them refuse to believe they have Covid, insisting that it must be something else, because Covid is a hoax. 

In fact, she said, her sister has characterized these patients as “big babies,” who are making the job of tending to them considerably more difficult than it needs to be.

Evidently, those “big babies” are convinced that vaccines are the monsters hiding under their beds…

What is interesting–if maddening–is that this irrational behavior is largely occurring on the political right (although left-wingers who see conspiracies where the rest of us see human complexity also subscribe.)  A recent article from The Week suggests a reason for those statistics showing that Republicans are dying at far greater rates than Democrats.

The article recounted several recent speeches by rightwing ideologues, and summarized the worldview common to them:

The right believes that the progressive left hates America; that it is an evil totalitarian cult which has infiltrated every institution; and that it is using a mix of business, bullying, and technological surveillance to deconstruct both masculinity and the United States as a whole in order to create a world without belonging.

In other words, the cult that has replaced the once-respectable GOP believes that “the progressive left” (i.e., everyone to the left of lunacy) is the monster under the bed. They actually believe that Democrats and moderate (i.e. sane) Republicans are capable of constructing and executing a co-ordinated, well-planned and utterly nefarious effort to destroy the America that exists in their fevered imaginations. 

Because???

The sheer number of people who have imbibed this Kool-Aid is scary enough, but the threat they pose to the rest of us is monstrous. As RFK Jr’s family has written, “his and others’ work against vaccines is having heartbreaking consequences.” We probably wouldn’t be facing the Omicron upsurge in Covid if vaccination rates had been higher, but the dangers posed by widespread acceptance of these conspiracy theories goes well beyond a deadly pandemic. We wouldn’t be teetering on the brink of something like Civil War if more people were intellectually or emotionally able to resist the lure of simple answers (It’s the bad guys! They’re the monster under the bed!) to complicated realities.

What was that famous quote by H.L. Mencken? “For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” 

Evidently, America is home to a depressingly large number of people willing to believe that all their problems can be solved just by destroying the imaginary monster under the bed…and if destroying the monster means eliminating democracy, well…so be it.

 

No, They Don’t “All” Do It

Every parent has heard a child respond to a scolding with “Everybody does it.”

When it’s children trying to evade responsibility, we see through that excuse pretty easily. When adults engage in such evasions, when they engage in “false equivalency argumentation,” we seem to be more gullible.

That has been especially true in politics, where complaints about political polarization and generally toxic partisan behaviors are routinely accompanied by rueful statements to the effect that, while reprehensible, “both sides do it.”

They don’t. At least, not with respect to phony “facts.”

A recent major study by the Columbia Journalism Review

shows that political polarization is more common among conservatives than liberals — and that the exaggerations and falsehoods emanating from right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart News have infected mainstream discourse….

The CJR study, by scholars at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School, and the MIT Center for Civic Media, examined more than 1.25 million articles between April 1, 2015, and Election Day. What they found was that Hillary Clinton supporters shared stories from across a relatively broad political spectrum, including center-right sources such as The Wall Street Journal, mainstream news organizations like the Times and the Post, and partisan liberal sites like The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.

By contrast, Donald Trump supporters clustered around Breitbart — headed until recently by Stephen Bannon, the hard-right nationalist now ensconced in the White House — and a few like-minded websites such as The Daily Caller, Alex Jones’ Infowars, and The Gateway Pundit. Even Fox News was dropped from the favored circle back when it was attacking Trump during the primaries, and only re-entered the fold once it had made its peace with the future president.

Right-wing sites, led by Breitbart, were able to push traditional media outlets into focusing on Trump’s issues, and–even more importantly–able to get them to frame the issues as Trump did. Even more troubling, right-wing sources were able to influence portrayals of Clinton, and to keep the mainstream media focus on her supposed “scandals.”

As the study’s authors noted,

It is a mistake to dismiss these stories as “fake news”; their power stems from a potent mix of verifiable facts (the leaked Podesta emails), familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.

Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

It turns out that the news appetites of liberals and moderates differ from those of the radical right-wing fringe that is today’s Republican base.

What’s at issue here is not just asymmetrical polarization but asymmetrical news consumption. The left and the center avail themselves of real journalism, however flawed it may be, while the right gorges on what is essentially political propaganda — all the while denigrating anything that contradicts their worldview as “fake news.”

It’s a winning business model: tell the paranoid what they want to hear, and assure them that everyone else is lying. That approach made Rush Limbaugh rich, then made Fox News highly profitable, and more recently, evolved into disinformation’s logical conclusion: Breitbart.

But “everyone” doesn’t consume this propaganda. The deficiencies in intellectual honesty on the left pale in comparison to the avid consumption of bullshit that characterizes the rabid right.

They aren’t equivalent.

Let’s Give Thanks…For Being “Unbiblical”

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is incumbent upon us to count our blessings, to remind ourselves of the multiple good things in our lives. (Complaining is far too easy these days, especially if you care at all about public policy and the state of the nation. )

A recent post to the Civic Literacy blog by Don Knebel makes a pretty compelling case for the proposition that a lack of “bible-based” lawmaking should top our list of gratitude-inducing items.

Most of us simply shrug off the constant drumbeat from the theocratic Right about our “secular” laws and the need to “return to biblical principles.” Don’s post demonstrates something I’ve long suspected: these pious frauds have no idea what most of those principles actually were or are. (My personal favorite from Don’s extensive list: Public execution by stoning would be required for “stubborn and rebellious” children.  Deuteronomy 21:18-21. If I’d only known….)

Click through for a truly edifying lesson in “bible law.”