Rank (and File) Bigotry

The Politico published a piece yesterday about the tension between Republican leadership, who are starting to veer away from an emphasis on social issues and recast themselves "as a constructive, respectful opposition to a popular president," and the Republican base, who "have no desire to moderate their views."
GOP activists and operatives say they hear intense anger at the White House and at the party's own leaders on familiar issues – taxes, homosexuality, and immigration. Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

There is little appetite for compromise on what many see as core issues, and the road to the presidential nomination lies – as always – through a series of states where the conservative base holds sway, and where the anger appears to be, if anything, particularly intense.

…."I've never seen the grass-roots quite as motivated, concerned and angry," said Steve Scheffler, the head of the Iowa Christian Alliance and the state's RNC committeeman.
That the conservative Republican base is apoplectic about taxes—despite the reality that Americans pay shockingly low taxes, by comparison to other industrialized nations and by the standards of our own recent history, no less the eventuality of Obama lowering taxes for most Americans—is the consummate evidence of their two defining characteristics: Greed and stupidity.

That they're wild-eyed about "homosexuality and immigration"—and their other perennial bailiwick, abortion—is the consummate evidence of their greatest fear: Queers, darkies, and uppity bitches overrunning the perfect, lily-white, patriarchal Christian nation that only exists in their fever-dreams and infecting it with our horrible progress-cooties.

The Republican leadership, the people sophisticated enough to not personally be offended by gays and people of color and feminists, but unethical enough to exploit their ignorant base's bigotry nonetheless, are losing control of their base. After three decades of fear-mongering, scapegoating, and wedge issue politicking, they're left with a seething conglomeration of intolerant bullies whose stubborn refusal to evolve ideologically is matched in astonishing obduracy only by their unjustifiable hatred.

For three decades, the Republican Party deliberately, cynically, and unapologetically fanned the flames of that hatred, which served as the fuel for the base's single-minded crusade to protect their privilege and thus the rationale for voting Republican—the party who promised to "protect tradition."

"Tradition" is the kind of word that appeals to people for whom the world is changing more rapidly than they can comfortably adjust, who are too busy to or socially discouraged from reading or thinking about things too much, who have heard some things about how feminism is responsible for the breakdown in the family and gays want to redefine marriage and immigrants are taking all the good jobs. "Tradition" is a word that plays well with people who can't be bothered to examine anything too closely, or were never taught how to properly think, how to analyze and assess information in a way that teases out the truth.

And it's an even better word for speaking to the unabashed bigots of the base, obliquely reassuring them that they're right to hate women and gays and brown people, those three separate monolithic groups of faceless enemies, and implicitly promising them they'll be protected from the onslaught of the radical hordes. America's great tradition of conferring undeserved privilege on you won't fail. Not on our watch.

That has been the sacred covenant between the Republican Party and its straight, white, patriarchal, Christian supremacist base for a generation: Vote for us, and we'll protect you.

And so they voted. And, in the process, they gave away their standard of living, their children's education, their jobs, their civil liberties, their national security, their environment, and their economy—all in exchange for the gossamer promise of a return to a time that never happened in a country that never really existed.

The Republican Party has traded again and again on the conjured idea of an American golden era, circa 1945 to 1960, after boys who were ripped from the arms of their virginal sweethearts and sent to another continent to fight a great war against tyranny and despair, had returned home as men, as heroes, and set to work, every last one of them, making babies with doting wives and grabbing the American Dream with both hands in the dawn of suburbia. Scientists in white lab coats and square, black-framed glasses toiled away to make American astronauts the first on the moon, and to fill all the pretty new homes behind perfect white picket fences with fancy, new-fangled household gadgets to make life easier and more fun. Teenagers hung out at sock hops and neon-lit diners, girls longing for lavaliers and boys wondering how to get laid. Elvis' pelvis was considered a scandal, and Marilyn Monroe a bombshell. Dad had a pension and the promise of a gold watch at the end of a long career with a single firm, and Mom had a Frigidaire. And everyone was happy.

Vote for us—and we'll give you that.

It's an empty promise built on an illusion, carefully constructed to conceal that America's so-called golden age was imperfect like any other, and perhaps even more so than most. Half a million of those boys who went off to war never came home—and some of them weren't boys at all, but men, who left wives and children with desperate struggles in the place where their husbands and fathers had been. Some who had come home were never the same, their bodies or minds damaged beyond real repair. Women who had been called to duty in factories were forcibly driven back into domesticity, segregation was a legal fact, every gay had a closet of hir very own, mental illness was treated with lobotomies, McCarthy was on his Communist witch hunt, and we fought an all-but-forgotten war in Korea for three years and lost over 35,000 soldiers. There were back-alley abortions, and the KKK, and Elvis and Marilyn both died of drugs.

The Republican promise has always had the very same flaw as their policies: It is contingent on pretending that the complexity and complications of human existence, and the flaws of humankind, don't exist.

The Republicans have held out this chimera to their base—this Leave It to Beaver bullshit—as if the typical family once was, and should be again, a model of white Christian perfection that never fought, never struggled, never suffered. And never had to be subjected to interactions with people of color, or gays, or any women besides Mom and maybe a nice lady to help sons take out books on the Boy Scouts from the local library. They have held it out as if it has actually been, and as if it could be again.

And they did so even knowing that the fantasy of this nonexistent perfect America is the very thing that created the beloved "traditions" of racism, sexism, and homophobia in the first place. It has been the dangling enticement of a happy family, supported by a single secure and well-paid job, in which no one is wracked with disillusionment, dispossession, or a lack of opportunity—an invitation to join for which most Americans are never given the chance to RSVP—which created the resentment and scapegoating that are the foundations of social conservative traditionalism.

Now the Republicans are stuck with the result—their revolting (in every sense of the word) base, who still believe, and must, lest they face their complicity in having been left with naught but their biases, that the responsible party for their struggles, their disaffection, their undefined but keenly-felt fury, is those people, not the Grand Old Party who promised them something better in exchange for their votes.

The political leadership taught their base too well whom to blame for what ails them, and thus cannot now move them from their fixed gaze and finger-pointing, even as it isn't helping the party anymore—and stands likely to hurt the party for the foreseeable future. They sowed the seeds of prejudice for decades, and now they reap nothing but the only crop such seeds can yield.

It would be amusing, if only the rest of us weren't stuck with the result, too.

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