Their Bootstraps Made Them Do It

[Content Note: Terrorism, violence, disablism.]

Once upon a time, the United States had a president named George W. Bush.

Nowadays, conservatives don't talk much about their man Dubya, as he was affectionately known, but when he was king, boy, how they loved him. He was their Golden Boy, the Platonic Ideal of the Modern Conservative—a man of extreme privilege with the fabricated veneer of a country boy, a corporate shill who gave an insidious wink at the working man, the teetotaler with whom every Real American wanted to have a beer.

Like some kind of malevolent genie pulled out of a bottle in oil-soaked Texas, George Bush tumbled headfirst into unfettered conservative wish fulfillment, and introduced The Ownership Society to America.

It was ostensibly about property ownership: Bush had a vision of getting everyone into their very own homes with their very own shiny mortgages. "We're ownership society in this country, where more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property," he said—and, well, we all know how that turned out.

But it was also about personal responsibility, that favorite of all favorite conservative mantras. Let them eat bootstraps, and all that.

There are a lot of reasons that George Bush's Ownership Society was and is a garbage disaster for the United States. Among them is the fact that this notion of every bootstrapper for hirself has more deeply entrenched the idea that people's individual actions exist in a fucking void.

Yesterday morning, in my piece about the murder of Trayvon Martin, I noted that the excuse-making for George Zimmerman on the basis that he is "crazy" has already begun. Later in the day, in my piece about Rick Santorum's vile bigotry, I addressed the ubiquitous habit of marginalizing him on the basis that he is "crazy." This morning, I wrote about the firebombing of a pro-choice State Senator's office, and—wouldn't you know it?—the man who has been arrested for the incident is, we are informed, a homeless man who is "crazy," just like the man who firebombed a clinic in Florida, and just like the man who was arrested for threatening to kill Rep. Jim McDermott, and just like the man who tried to kill Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and just like the man who attempted to bomb a Martin Luther King Day parade, and just like the man who killed Dr. George Tiller, and on and on and on until I want to fucking puke.

Each and every one of them are individually and independently "crazy" and their actions exist in a void and there's nothing to see here, move along. Their bootstraps made them do it.

Guess who else is "crazy"? Anyone who sees a pattern of anti-progressive violence—and, very specifically, misogynist and/or homophobic and/or racist violence—and has the unmitigated temerity to suggest that, hey, maybe this shit isn't happening in a void.

Maybe the nakedly misogynist, unapologetically homophobic, and dangerously racist policies of the Republican Party and its even more extreme rightwing have something to do with this homegrown terrorism that everyone in Washington is carefully ignoring because to call it out would be impolitic and partisan and, worse yet, might hurt someone's reelection chances.

That's just "crazy" talk. Their bootstraps made them do it.

Maybe the fact that the Republican Party has been actively courting bigots under the guise of "tradition" and exploiting their bigotry to get elected for four decades, increasingly legitimizing extremist views and demonizing progressives and/or members of marginalized groups in the process, has a little something to do with this homegrown terrorism.

That's just "crazy" talk. Their bootstraps made them do it.

Maybe the toxic combination of demonizing vulnerable populations, lax gun laws, and violent rhetoric—otherwise known as the Republican Platform—has facilitated an environment in which the murder of Trayvon Martin, the legitimacy of Rick Santorum, the assassination attempt on a sitting member of Congress, and the widespread attacks on women's clinics and abortionists are not aberrations, but inevitabilities.

That's just "crazy" talk. Their bootstraps made them do it.

Maybe the failure of ostensibly progressive allies to speak the fuck up and call this homegrown terrorism by name, the failure to be all in, all the time, because it's not politically expedient or because it's "woman's work" or because where ya gonna go? is kind of a goddamned problem, too.

That's just "crazy" talk. Their bootstraps made them do it.

Just a series of lone gunmen and bombers, none of whom are connected by anything. Except for how they are connected by all being men living in the same culture—a culture that is increasingly conservative, increasingly tolerant of violent rhetoric and actual violence, a culture hostile to consent, a culture that asserts state ownership of marginalized bodies, a culture that advocates individual responsibility and sneers at collective responsibility, that treats as a punchline concepts like "universal healthcare," underlining the fact that even if these men are indeed mentally ill, it is nonetheless our shared responsibility for not providing comprehensive services to address that health crisis before other people get hurt.

Conservative ideology scoffs at such hippie nonsense and advocates an Ownership Society. Every person for hirself, and fuck you if you get in the way of an individual who's been failed by this fucked-up culture and makes use of the fact that we treat gun ownership as a right but not access to healthcare.

But a society of disconnected individuals without responsibility for one another isn't a society at all. And no matter how hostile to the notions of a social contract conservatives may be, the fact stubbornly remains that we are all connected to and influenced by a culture—a culture that has been severely weakened and imperiled and made infinitely more dangerous for its oppressed members by a conservative approach that rejects human interdependency and shared accountability.

To imagine that, even (or maybe especially) if an individual is dangerously mentally ill, pervasive cultural memes do not influence in what direction they direct their violent impulses is to fail to understand how culture works.

(Which is to say nothing of the likelihood that mentally ill people are more likely themselves to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.)

But instead of acknowledging the reality of having created more dangerous spaces for marginalized people, instead of owning it, conservatives dismiss these homegrown terrorists as "crazy" in a void, and double down on the notion of individual responsibility. And there are always plenty of fauxgressives happy to play along, even if just by fastidiously maintaining their silence.

We are in this together. "He's crazy" doesn't fucking cut it.

A dead teenage boy. A wildly radical Christian Supremacist candidate vying for the nomination. A dead doctor. A terrorist campaign against women and other people with uteri, and their doctors and allies, who just want access to a legal medical procedure.

This is your Ownership Society in all its violent grotesquery, Republicans. Own that.

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