First I feel the need to declare my bona fides. I am a Democrat. I caucus every time they come up. I have voted exclusively Democratic since the mid 1990s. Before that I voted for a Republican or Independent about 20% of the time. But that was when Republicans were not 100% batshit.
I believe all that is good throughout political history has happened thanks to progressives and had been resisted by conservatives. Conservatives used to think it was ok to own human beings, to let industry dump shit into the air and water at will, let children work in sweat shops, let factory owners lock workers into death traps, let auto companies set safety standards, etc. If conservatives had their way we would be stuck in medieval times permanently. Progressives dragged society, kicking and screaming, into what we all must admit is a state of affairs which is better than medieval times.
Still, conservatives and wing nuts remain despite this fact. And many of these people, if you get to know them one on one, seem like decent and stand up people. But for some reason they support policies and politicians that, if laid out on paper for them, these people would flat out reject. So what gives? What is going on in their heads and hearts that would make them shoot themselves and their fellow citizens of the world in the foot?
Trying to wrap my head around this I have tried to see things from their perspective – to empathize with these unsympathetic folks. Near as I can tell it breaks down like this…
It is all about control. Unless they are Wall Street fat cat kleptocrats, the real reason someone would embrace the right wing agenda is all about control and an adamant resistance to being controlled.
Juan Williams was famously fired from MPR for admitting that he sometimes thought a thought that is not a progressive thought. And he was fired. Now he is making a tour promoting his book that I have not read but he promotes it by claiming that FOX News is more fair and balanced than the rest of main stream media. I thought that was a laughable claim. But then I tried to see it from his perspective and I saw it broke down to the fact that he was hurt by the left. Not his feelings. His actual job was destroyed. Because he admitted he sometimes gets nervous on an airplane when he sees people who look Muslim on board.
Now FOX News and AM talk radio is famous for being biased towards the right wing agenda. They stack their panels and tell people to shut up and cut off microphones when they are losing an argument and distort facts. But Juan was fired for speaking a personal thought.
He sees that the left not only says and supports certain things but they will punish you if you do not abide by the left agenda. The right wing may call you a Nazi every time they disagree with you. But they don’t actually fire you. You may be a traitor to the nation if you do not swallow their bait. But we all have disagreements. People who have a beef with the left and the progressives see that the left doesn’t just hold a view but they feel the left will actually try to assert control over you -- your thoughts, your speech, your money, your driving choice – so that you are forced to be in line with what they want.
What do the conservative, working class want? They want to be left alone. They want to tell racist and sexist jokes and laugh at them if they want to without someone telling them they can’t think that’s funny. They want to drive the biggest effing gas guzzler in the world without someone telling them they should not have made that choice and trying to limit that choice.. They want to look out for themselves financially and help the people and causes they choose without someone else telling them they better cough up their hard earned dough to fund this program or that needful stranger.
They don’t give a shit about government regulation except when it hits their small business. They like clean air and water and safe cars. But they don’t even notice that those are there thanks to regulation. What they do notice is when their small business is hit with licensing fees and regulatory stuff. To them it is someone asserting control over them.
If they are workers they just want to draw a paycheck. They don’t want a union telling them they have to pay dues or they have to share solidarity with other union members. They just want to do their work, get paid and go home. The company and the conservative employee have struck a simple deal – money for work. It’s a trade. But they feel the union wants to assert some control over them that does not come in such a clear trade off. They just want to be left alone.
“But, Simul,” you may protest. “Conservatives are always butting their noses into places they don’t belong. Why don’t the wingers get upset about that?”
It is true that conservatives try to shove school prayers and anti-gay policies and anti-fact text books and wars down our throats. But remember, this is about control. Those are things they would either choose on their own or things that don’t affect them personally. Some are rabidly homophobic. But many others just don’t give a shit about it as long as it does not affect them. What does affect them is when you have to use the right words about gays. So then, the growing acronym GLBTQ really bugs them. Same with the evolving “African American” term. They feel like they are being forced to feel and speak a certain way about people they either don’t care for or don’t care about. When a winger politician comes along and throws out the dog whistles about those groups it strikes a chord in them. “Yeah, this person is sick of the politically correct crap too.”
Marriage for gays? Sure some of them are pretty militant about it. But polls show most people either support it or don’t give a rat’s rear. “Let ‘em marry if they want to. As long as it doesn’t affect me, I don’t care.”
Tax breaks for gajillionaires? Sure some of the wingers have a weird fetish for protecting the financial interests of people who don’t need looking out for. But that is explained by aspirational voting. But most of the wingers really don’t care. What they care about is their own money, the taxes they have to pay. The media has done an excellent job of convincing wingers that these tax increase proposals for millionaires will somehow mean these wingers will have to pay more taxes. And besides that, they see someone who they can relate to in these poor victims of the tax man. They have a lot more in common with the gay couple who want full legal recognition of their relationship than they do with the millionaire tax payer. But they don’t fear their marriage rights being taken away. They fear their money being taken away. They feel empathy for the millionaires.
This is all about control. Rightwingers feel like the left and government is constantly trying to assert control over them and being controlled is what they fear more than anything else. National debt, crumbling infrastructure, foreign policy debacles, income gaps, CEO bonuses? Pfft! “As long as they just leave me alone.”
The genius of the right wing noise machine is that they have identified this phobia and exploited it mightily. How can this be successfully met by progressives? We have decades of right wing propaganda brainwashing to undo. And this is a distinctly American trait.
I have no solutions to offer. But I find some use in at least understanding what I am dealing with.