Thursday, November 8, 2012

White Hot Rage

So Obama has been re-elected. Obama haters are reacting with predictable fury and Obama supporters are, in many cases, reacting to their outrage with Schadenfreude. Meanwhile foreigners are astonished at the vitriol being hurled by the far right.They're not sure whether to be amused or appalled by the threats to move to Britain, Canada or Australia, all of whom have social policies well to the left of Obama. There hasn't been that much talk yet about moving to New Zealand, possibly because many of the worst poo-flingers haven't heard of it or don't know where it is, or are afraid of being eaten by orcs. Good thing too, since New Zealand is the most liberal of the lot and heads would be exploding like party favors if they were to move there and then find out what New Zealand was actually like.

In the 1960's, urban and campus riots were explained (often justified by apologists) as the inevitable result of frustration at an unresponsive System. While the Vietnam War was intractable, the social system had, in fact, been very responsive. Most of the worst rioting took place after the passage of major civil rights reforms. It's as if people were lashing out at the realization that fixing a lot of societal evils did not automatically make their personal lives better. I asked a lot of people how they'd react if the Right was doing the rioting and was told, "Oh, that will never happen."

Well, guess what? It's not riots yet (their HOA's forbid them) but the sense of frustration is very much like the Sixties. For fifty years the Right has been in retreat. They even held the White House and both branches of Congress for a while and still didn't get what they wanted. So they have taken a hard line and refuse to back up any more. There's no place left to go.

The prehistory of the Tea Party probably begins with FDR. Up till then, the Federal Government mostly stayed out of local business, leaving communities free to persecute gays, discriminate against blacks, ban abortion, and regulate the sexual practices even of consenting adults. It was actually possible for social conservative William Jennings Bryan, of Scopes Trial infamy, to run for President as a Democratic economic progressive. The New Deal provoked the hatred of economic conservatives, while the civil rights initiatives of Harry Truman began to alienate the South, to the point that Strom Thurmond ran as an independent candidate on a states rights platform. As more and more progressive social policies were dictated at the Federal level, social conservatives aligned more and more with economic conservatives. It's not that the conservatives coalesced, but that progressives coalesced and squeezed the conservatives out.

I believe it all really began with the banning of official prayer in school. To many on the right, this was an unforgivable repudiation of the idea that Christianity had special legal status, and tantamount to a declaration of war. What the far Right wants, first and foremost, is Christian supremacy. Tolerance of other faiths is all right, but when the rubber hits the road they want American institutions to be unabashedly and explicitly Christian. They want Christian supremacy proclaimed at public events by official prayer, and they want the power to legislate Christian doctrine, including a ban on abortion, an end to gay rights, and ultimately, in all probability, the power to legislate all private behavior.

Don't they realize how unfair this is? No. They consider Christianity to be objectively, demonstrably superior to other beliefs. If you don't accept their evidence, that's your problem, not theirs. They don't consider it unfair any more than we consider it unfair for the FDA to ban quack remedies. Their view is exactly that of James Carville: "We're right, they're wrong." They consider it unfair to have other beliefs held on a par with Christianity. It's like climate denialism in reverse; in their view, the evidence for Christianity is so overwhelming that opposition to it can only be explained by willful denial and venal motives.

Second on their list is absolute private property rights. They may band together in those ridiculous HOA's to enact communal standards on lawn care, but anyone who doesn't want to live like that is free to live elsewhere. But they absolutely detest the idea that anyone has the power to tell them whom they can rent to, whether they can drain a wetland on their property or root out an endangered plant. And since taxes are a direct threat to untrammeled ownership of property, they hate taxes wholly apart from having to pay money. Having to pay taxes and having their use of their own property restricted is adding insult to injury. In fact, the prophet Samuel in the Old Testament warned the Israelites (1 Samuel 8: 11-18) of the consequences of having a king, so not only are taxes held to be oppressive, but anti-Christian as well.

I suspect a lot of them would like to see something like Israel as described in the Book of Judges. There was no formal government, just tribal elders and occasional judges to decide weighty matters. Law and order was mostly private. There was, true, a regular parade of conquerors from the major empires, mostly passing through on the way to their real goal, and a lot of harassment from petty neighbors like the Philistines and the Amorites. On the whole, it's about as close to a libertarian society as we find in written history. In fact, the society of Judges 17:6 would probably be ideal: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit."

Finally, they want a meritocracy. More precisely, they want an aristocracy, not in the sense of a hereditary nobility, but "rule by the best," which is the actual Greek meaning of the term. Not a meritocracy of achievement (that would force too many people to face the fact that they just can't cut it), but one of "authenticity," a term that numerous observers have used to define a subtle blend of the right values, behavior, beliefs and attitudes: the "Right Stuff" of the Right. The Right Stuff includes pride in one's property, hard work, sexual discretion, deferred gratification, and lawfulness. The Wrong Stuff includes laziness, slovenliness, promiscuity, dependency, and crime. The best part of having the Right Stuff is you get pretty free rein to transgress the moral codes (like snorting coke, having an affair, getting a cheerleader pregnant or getting an abortion) as long as you publicly profess the standards, and especially if you have the money to pay for any damage you cause). It's far more important to work to preserve the privileges of the Right Stuff against the Wrong Stuff than to observe all the standards punctiliously. Discretion is all important. The closest thing to a system that achieves these goals is plutocracy. The people with the Right Stuff believe they deserve privilege because they are the producers of wealth and the preservers of social decorum.

Since people with the Right Stuff are the best members of society, they hold that giving to those with the Wrong Stuff is wrong on many levels. First, it takes from those who deserve it and gives to those who don't. Second, it insulates the undeserving from the consequences of their behavior. It deprives those with the Right Stuff of their Right Place in the social order. People who believe in social hierarchies (with themselves in the upper echelons, of course) believe they have a right to that status, and get offended when people they perceive as lower are given equal standing. They get doubly offended when the Government intervenes on behalf of the low-status group. And when you violate the absolute sanctity of private property on behalf of the low-status group, well, you just have a perfect storm.

Moderates have nothing to offer them. No moderates are going to promise them Christian supremacy, absolute private property rights or outright class stratification, which are the things they want most. When the Democratic choice in 2008 boiled down to Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama, the far right was confronted with the prospect of losing to a candidate who seriously threatened deep erosion of the core values of the far right. They demanded a candidate who would defend those values. The situation got even worse in 2012. Now their rage is white hot. People like this can never really be beaten. They can die out, or they can be marginalized. But when they're marginalized, they're still there, and they're still angry, all the more so for being marginalized. Social pundits are sorely puzzled as to where all the racism has come from in modern American society. The answer is it was there all along. It wasn't acceptable to express it, so it was exiled to our equivalent of the Northwest Frontier Provinces. But just like the Taliban, they're not content with exile. They intend to rule.

Postscript, 2017

This piece was written in 2012. I've posted things like it may times on liberal-leaning sites, always to a chorus of "Lalalalala I can't HEAR you," or being called a "troll." Well, now we have Trump. Are we having fun yet?