Thursday, August 21, 2014

White is the New Black

As the tragedy in Ferguson continues to unfold, it touches on so many issues - racial profiling, society's devaluation of black lives, the militarization of policing, freedom of the press, etc. One is conservative media's coverage and framing of events.

In my book, I have devoted an entire chapter to the right's routine Orwellian inversion of history. As I wrote before, this was one among very many things that kept me postponing my book's completion. Almost every other day, some new example of that reactionary reflex would occur and I felt I had to retroactively shoehorn it into my manuscript. Each new quote felt more stupefying than the last, but eventually I realized that I had to stop somewhere and I consoled myself with the fact that this ongoing phenomenon was keeping my book fresh and relevant even as my examples age. Now, my only worry is sounding like a broken record.

Well, this one takes the cake - at least, until tomorrow. According to regular Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham, the protestors demanding to know the name of the cop who shot an unarmed black teenager are a "lynch mob." But she had previously called the armed militia members who had a stand off with federal authorities at the Cliven Bundy ranch "Freedom Riders."

Roll that one around in your head for a moment. I will wait.

Granted, the two statements were made well apart - she was not contrasting the protestors with the militia members. And I suppose it is possible that she was just unthinkingly using whatever hyperbolic comparison popped into her head without thinking too hard about the labels' origins. But conservatives do this so routinely now that I am disinclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. Twisting history is their strategy.

Whatever your politics, you should acknowledge this as an embarrassing absurdity. No liberal opinion maker could say something that stupid and remain gainfully employed. He or she would hemorrhage viewers. Not so for conservatives. They may become totally radioactive to advertisers, but Glenn Beck is now making even more money since he has left Fox. They know how to monetize controversy. It is a Pavlovian vicious cycle between pundit and audience: This is what the rank and file likes to hear, and the Elephant Echo Chamber happily delivers regularly.

I am certainly not the first person to notice any of this. But I have spotted a larger pattern that I think merits discussing. This is how conservatives think - at least enough of them to swing the GOP toward the lunatic fringes. Denial and projection are not just something they do occasionally: It is their dominant reflex in explaining events. In my book, I take pains to say that we all can project or say stupid things. But no other group rewards and turbo boosts it like conservatives do.

Why? Because it is inherent in the conservative mindset. These are people who are hostile to liberty and equality who are living in a country that is founded on pursuing these ideals. These are the people who have always postponed our democratic promise and done their utmost to make our ideals a hollow joke. Yes, liberals can certainly disappoint, either out of thoughtlessness or cowardliness, but only conservatives have made such subversion an organizing principle

And yet, conservatives are all about conformity, obedience, and belonging, so they cannot acknowledge their history of sabotage. Just as the GOP's Southern Strategy denies racism while relying on racist dog whistles, conservatism covertly milks this un-American animus while challenging others' patriotism. Indeed, the first is a facet of the second. Race is a volatile topic the world over, but America's identity has a stake in equality that makes American racists feel extra defensive. Their authenticity as Americans always feels under assault.
 
Conservatives have always attempted to co-opt the founders. They denied the founders' deism and secular open mindedness. But now, their rewrites reach into recent history - into events that are in the living memory of millions. Case in point: the Civil Rights Movement. You simply cannot make a lynching analogy any more awkward than Laura
Ingraham has - at least not without making the exact same one as Bill O'Reilly had. But whether deliberate or unthinking, it is still completely in sync with her audience's ass-backwards worldview.

After all, a poll taken last year found that nearly a third - 29% - of Louisiana Republicans think that President Barack Obama bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. Of course, this titanic natural disaster occurred on President George W. Bush's watch. (Almost half - 44% - were unsure of who was at fault.) But what is most stunning is that it happened in their own state only seven years before the poll was taken and yet so many of them still got it wrong! If conservatives can forget or rewrite that in their minds, anything is possible.

UPDATE: David Horowitz has just joined the "lynch mob" metaphor bandwagon.

SECOND UPDATE: Ben Stein now too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Analogous Absurdity


I have neglected this blog for too long. I have a few embryonic posts on important topics that I will post soon, but I just had to address this little bit of geeky ephemera.

Apparently, some homophobic fan boy recently objected to a lesbian scene in a Star Trek novel. He wrote a letter, and the writer gave a great response. My first three reactions to the incident were: 1) Imagine that fan boy's reaction if the characters were gay males. 2) Dude, where have you been? Lesbians on Star Trek are old news. The Deep Space 9 episode “Rejoined” aired in 1995. Catch up. And 3) It's fucking STAR TREK. If you have a problem with any form of tolerance you are in the wrong fandom.

Watch Starship Troopers instead.

I call this an analogous absurdity because the homophobe’s response looks a whole lot like conservative "patriotism." One of the many points I hammer home in my book is that America is supposed to stand for liberty, equality, and democracy and that conservatives chronically oppose those things. These three big ideals cover a lot of ground, and the ripple effects cause conservatives to oppose America’s every ethos – from our status of a multicultural nation of immigrants to the very concept of progress itself. As I wrote before in this blog, William F. Buckley Jr. declared in the National Review’s 1955 mission statement that his magazine “stands athwart history shouting Stop!” By contrast, Thomas Jefferson once wrote:

But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

In that respect, Star Trek – and every inherently secular humanistic message contained in it – is an extension of America. Both are animated by a vision of an advanced, scientific-thinking society that is both tolerant and egalitarian, and yet nevertheless values individuals' right to live as they like. As Thomas Jefferson explained, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” But theocrats cannot grasp this. They think "God's law" trumps all else. Jefferson thought otherwise. "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Legislating Leviticus is inherently un-American.

This vision was committed to our coinage. As Benjamin Franklin had inscribed on our nation's first penny "Mind Your Business." On the opposite side of the coin are the words "We Are One" surrounded by thirteen interlocking rings to represent the thirteen original colonies. This later became our nation's motto E Pluribus Unum - "One From Many." In time, this got tied to our generous multicultural identity - the one outlined in the poem on the Statue of Liberty that reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me."

In my book, I argue that the interdependent ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy form a tripod with each leg supporting the other two and thus the structure as a whole. I further argue that empathy and generosity are the glue that holds all the pieces together. Of course, the conservative temperament cuts against all of these things. It stands athwart history and America's liberal traditions shouting self-contradictory nonsense. Just as there are Trekkers who do not get Star Trek, there are Americans who do not get America. And for the same basic reasons.