Pluralistic: 09 Mar 2022

Today's links

A roast turkey on a countertop wearing an 'I voted' sticker on its breast; behind it is a Christmas tree with a red ornament emblazoned with 'Make America Great Again.'

The cruelty isn't the point (permalink)

When confronted with Texas's cruel, vicious trans bill – which allows the state to take children away from their parents if they allow their kids to get life-saving, gender-affirming medical treatments – it's easy to think that "the cruelty is the point."

But as Jamie Gardner writes in Jacobin, "they're just assholes" doesn't have much explanatory power. Neither assholes nor trans people are modern innovations, so why is it that this law was introduced now?

To understand why "they're just assholes" isn't enough, consider the same argument from the other side of the aisle. Back in 2011, racialized and working class people in east London staged an uprising that included arson and looting. Then-PM David Cameron announced that any discussion of social factors contributing to the event was forbidden. The only explanation he would entertain was "Criminality, pure and simple."

But even if you accept this explanation, it still falls short. If the uprising was sparked by pure, simple criminality, then why didn't it happen the year before or the year after? Did the quantum of "criminality" lurking in the souls of the participants swell on some strange tide, provoked by sunspots or a gravitational anomaly? If all explanations for the uprising come from the realm of ideas and not material conditions, then what explains the ebb and flow and the specific character of this "criminality?"

Likewise in right-wing politics. Sure as Christmas, every year the right finds a new culture war bogeyman to rail against: gay marriage, fluoride, vaccines, trans bathrooms, trans kids, critical race theory, you name it. What's more, these issues come and go. When I was a kid defending abortion clinics, evangelicals were not just indifferent to the abortion question, they rejected abortion as a true Christian concern. Abortion was a Catholic thing, and for evangelicals, Catholics weren't Christians. To be inflamed about abortion was to be ideologically suspect – a marker of crypto-Papacy:

What explains the changing fashions of right-wing outrage? What makes one form of bigotry and cruelty surface while last week's white-hot moral crusade is flushed down the memory hole?

Gardner proposes a theory: that while the right harbors many cruel people, its leaders make appeals to this cruelty specifically to gain and keep power. Here's the thing about the Texas anti-trans law: it was funded by GOP operatives who spent $750,000 to get it passed before the midterms:

And Texas Governor Greg Abbott has polling data that shows that inflicting this cruelty and terror has a 75-80% support among his voters.

What's more, Abbott is keenly attuned to the passions of his base, because he personally demanded that Texas power operators spike prices during last year's winter storm, sticking Texans with a $26.3b power-bill:

And his Attorney General Ken Paxton didn't just write the legal opinion that paved the way for this law; he also got caught taking bribes and pissed off Republican voters and is worried about a GOP primary challenge:

In other words, the cruelty isn't the point, power is.

The right-wing political coalition is a strange beast. The core policies of GOP governments aren't about bathrooms or marriage or medical treatment – they're about deregulation, slashing taxes on the wealthy and cutting programs. By definition, these are priorities that benefit a tiny number of people at the expense of the great majority. Getting elected with a program that only benefits a minority is really hard.

Hence right-wing politics: a carefully groomed coalition of legions of turkeys whose farmers convince them to vote for Christmas. As Corey Robin explains in his must-read The Reactionary Mind, the thing that binds together all forms of right-wing thought is the idea that some of us are born to rule, and most of us are born to be ruled over.

Libertarians believe in rule by bosses over workers; evangelicals believe in rule over children and wives by husbands; imperialists believe in global rule by America, and racists believe in the rule of white people over people of color.

This is a huge advantage for the true beneficiaries – and paymasters – of the conservative movement. After all, "fiscal conservativism" is less popular than at any time in living memory:

So getting turkeys to vote for Christmas requires a distraction from this unpopular program. The Texas trans bill is an appeal to the hierarchical belief common to all strains of conservativism: the point of the cruelty is punishing people who have asserted the right to self-governance against the edicts of their natural, divinely decreed leaders.

This is the common strain in every conservative moral panic: not just cruelty, but cruelty as punishment for people who insist that they are not born to be ruled, and that they have the right to self-determination: about who they marry, about when they give birth, about their working conditions, about public health.

Only 15% of the Republican coalition supports the priorities of the business elites who steer its strategy:

The conservatives with low-tax brain-worms know that they can only hope to spare themselves from pitching in to help society if they make common cause with racists, misogynists and superstitious thugs. That's okay with them – it's a fair price to pay for saving a dollar on their taxes:

And it's a two-way street. The bigots and misogynists who vote GOP know that they're helping American oligarchs grow wealthier and more powerful, at their own expense. For them, the axe on Christmas morning is a fair price to pay for inflicting cruelty on trans kids, women, and people of color.

The cruelty isn't the point.

Cruelty is the tactic.

The point is power.

(Image: Gerry, CC BY 2.0)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Rob Ford: dead cyclists have themselves to blame!

#10yrsago Infographic: Charter Cable’s dirty tricks to kill community broadcast

#10yrsago TSA body-scanner guy says TSA is “strongly cautioning” reporters not to write about him

#10yrsago Arizona Senate votes to let anti-abortion docs lie to pregnant women

#5yrsago Bunnie Huang’s tour-de-force “Hardware Hacker”

#5yrsago Senate Republicans introduce resolution ensuring ISPs don’t need your permission to sell your private data and SSN

#5yrsago The grueling emotional labor of an open source maintainer

#5yrsago Uber’s “sharing economy” is really the “taking economy”

Colophon (permalink)

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