Were you really surprised that the audiences for the last two Republican debates behaved in such a way as to reveal themselves as crude, callous, petty and dully belligerent? Were you unprepared for the exhibition of time-hardened, ugly resentments? Probably not, if you actually live outside of the Washington press and pundit environs, upscale academic institutions, or a White House displaying unhealthy obsessions with centrist mirages and bipartisanship.
In other words, daily contact, whether online or elsewhere has informed you what you’re dealing with when it comes to the conservative rank and file. Cheering executions and advocating the death of the uninsured as deserved punishment fits the familiar profile, and it is standard fare. Remove the pseudo-philosophical sheen and technical, political and ideological vocabulary of Republican politicians and activists, scratch them, and this is what you’ll see.
You try to avoid the conclusion they are simply crummy people, that pathology is at the root of their lack of empathy, their narrowed perceptions, their warped self-satisfaction, their prejudices, their bitterness and pervasive, and incessantly expressed scorn. But some of it well may be intrinsic, you cannot help but conclude.
Still, on an individual level, most of us have experience with persons holding repugnant political views who are quite decent in day to day life. The discrepancy of course, and the difference maker is ideology and political indoctrination, both powerful changers of human behavior and individual nature. Some of the pettiness and prejudice is simply hubris, a result of being reasonably comfortable or stable but unremarkable, and deriving satisfaction from minor exclusivities, the counterpart of this enjoyment being a certain scorn for those who haven’t “earned” them.
But in large part it is the result of ideological propaganda, of thirty or so years of pounding American eardrums about the undeserving character of recipients of government assistance, “welfare queens,” the uniformly deplorable public sector, the parasitic poor, lots of individualist mythology and deification of the private sector, in conjunction with broad adoption by the right and by Republican politicians of bizarre cultist philosophies or economic theorizing such as Ayn Rand’s objectivism or Austrian School libertarianism, which divide the world into the worthy capitalists or “producers,” and then the worthless dregs and drones.
It has been a steady thirty year march of radicalizing, demonization, and eventually, dehumanization of many of America’s citizens, of large swaths of the American population and major chunks of the world. What’s unfortunate and what is disturbing for the nation is that this political component of the country and the political party that has now absorbed it, like so many reactionary movements and regimes of the Twentieth Century, is the degree to which it is defined by all of the groups and entities it fears, and more disturbingly, loathes. In current America, they would be:
America’s poor (lazy), union workers (pampered), unions, academics, “Hollywood,” America’s population centers (not the real America), Europe, Scandinavia (socialists, effete, ultra-civilized) Muslim Arab nations and south Asian Muslim nations, the United Nations (foreigners who do not make American interests their singular priority), public schools, climate scientists, environmental protectors, the uninsured of course, the “homosexual agenda,” trial lawyers, the New Deal, the last century’s progressive reforms, all of government in abstraction, and Americans in its employ. I’m sure you can name many others that momentarily slip my mind. Community organizers and voter-registration and advocacy groups for the underclass (ACORN) always earn a particularly sulfuric hatred.
Indeed, this ideological faction and its party have become their own small country inhabiting a larger one, for all practical purposes at odds with the rest of the planet. This self-containment is reinforced in its insularity by the conservative media bubble and the circularity simply enhances the process of incessant radicalization. For those in the bubble, these beliefs, prejudices and assumptions are verities that become the norm.
Ideologies, and certainly extreme ideologies and zealously held ideologies suppress the humanity in people in favor of dogma, dictates, theories, abstractions and convictions that do not bother with realities beyond the tribe, with evidentiary details, contradictory facts or quibbles of common decency.
These unfounded biases and attendant hostilities on the right are not the objective in and of themselves, but a by-product of the fundamentalist and absolutist quest for some vision of atavistic regression in which businesses and corporations and the wealthy retain a near feudalistic or aristocratic suzerainty over all the rest, unencumbered by the needs or wants of other than themselves: some crude, primitive conception of a “natural order” dressed up for Sundays by the Ayn Rands, Ludwig Von Mises, Koch brothers, Grover Norquists, Paul Ryans, Eric Cantors and Rand Pauls of the world as, “philosophies”.
But this sort of relentless demonizing and classifying and negative mythologizing is how groups and sometimes nations become conditioned to callousness and steely ideologically-determined and ideologically justified cruelties, small and large. The paranoid, xenophobic and pettily hostile dark side of conservatism gets very little play in the mainstream press, so on occasions such as the latest debates it pops up seemingly out of the blue. But as many of us know, it is not out of the blue at all, but commonplace. Let’s hope that in America, it never elevates to another, darker level.