Amanda Marcotte brilliantly details in a series of articles the christian conservative will and desire to end the world if it can’t be the way they see is moral. They will lie, cheat, berate and perform every nasty trick possible to continue the decline as none of it matters once the war seems lost. They are like fighting boys until one side begins to lose and then cheating is mandatory, as after all who cares so long as the right side wins. In self-defense how do the rules matter? If total loss seems imminent blow up the ring.
Over and over again, right-wingers warn that all the things they hate, from pro-gay Broadway shows to immigration to multiculturalism, are not just signs of an evolving American society, but portend the actual end of it. The Roman Empire is often darkly alluded to, and you get the impression many on the right think Rome burned up and descended into anarchy and darkness. (Not quite.) But really, what all these fantasies of cities burning down and impending war and destruction are expressing is a belief that the culture of white conservative Christians is the culture of America. So it follows that if they aren’t the dominant class in the United States, then America isn’t, in their opinion, really America anymore.
I have been bingeing on Revolution on Netflix and what I see is constant play on violence, emotional content, and pretty people. It’s not overtly Christian but it does display many values we hold dear in this country. I have also binged on Duck Dynasty on Hulu which is a celebration of family cohesiveness and more Southern Christian values such as loyalty, much more overt than in Revolution. In Revolution the bad guys become good guys and the good guys become conflicted with temptations of power versus familial and tribal loyalty, along with the necessity of situation mitigating morality. Revolution is nuanced but violent. Duck Dynasty is over the top but peaceful, in spite of the love of “killing things–those things are others, animals, food.”
It’s hard to underestimate how much of a crisis moment the election of Barack Obama for president was for the religious right because of this. And his re-election, of course, which showed that his presidency was not a fluke. Even before Obama was elected, the possibility that a black man with a “multicultural” background was such a massive confirmation of their worst fear—that they are not, actually, the dominant class in America–that the campaign against Obama became overwhelmed completely by this fear. The media frenzy over the minister in Obama’s church was about racial anxieties, but it was telling that it was his church that was the focal point of the attack. The stories were practically tailor-made to signal to conservative Christians that Obama was not one of them.
America was settled by groups of people seeking autonomy and isolation from other groups. Recently it has become a nation of individuals. This is a false description. It’s real roots are individuals within a group. Individuals in Europe were always considered part of a group and their conflicts always revolved around groups. It’s why Jews and Coptics are both nations and not religions. Religions are becoming the new nations in the news because geographic boundaries do not define a community but religions. With enhanced mobility a fluid middle-class encourages moderation in religions simply because they have to go somewhere else where there are already people of a different ilk.
Sarah Palin’s campaign as the running mate to John McCain made right-wing fears even more explicit. On the trail, she notoriously described conservative, white, Christian-heavy America with these words: “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” McCain’s campaign tried lamely to spin it, but the subtext was text now. The Christian right believes their culture is the only legitimate American culture, and the election of Barack Obama was a major threat to it.
Like The Andy Griffith Show modern conservative America remembers a past and more cohesive time when even the outliers were still family. Strangers could be put in their place with a little pluck and ingenuity. Even an old-timey cousin (now called bro) could outwit outsiders that seemed to have the advantage but were in the end the greater buffoons. Hell, even the idiot deputy who couldn’t handle a pistol properly could occasionally win against the bad guys. Even though he started more trouble than he solved the inept deputy was still cherished as family and in some way oddly competent. Moonshiners and drunks might be jailed but always with a certain kindness and understanding they were really part of the family. Even the village idiot who would later star in Gomer Pyle, as played by Jim Nabors originally a singer, was morally kind but stupid or more accurately simple–a theme that was oft repeated in the Buck Owens show where being a country-bumpkin, idiot-savant was made acceptable if not normative.
The young son Opie played by the soon-to-be director Ron Howard was troublesome with his upstart questions but still familial in a way the Waltons would capitalize, where in the end everyone is pretty Christian to each other. Where Christian means accepting since everyone is still Christian as a basic ground rule. The way of doing this was a self-depracating humor where simple foibles were cherished in a way Garrison Keeler exploited in a Prairie Home Companion where even the worst of Lutheran traits, once again making national a religion, were cherished as somehow proper.
More that one could ridicule one’s self but not others. This allowed men to dress like women, whites like blacks, whites like mexicans, whites like italians, and so forth because no harm could be met because basically everyone was white and if you are going to act like anyone else you had to be white. Whatever minorities lived in these communities were white. This tribalism is now still evidenced even in minorities like blacks calling themselves niggers and women calling themselves whores for example to either renown the words or dilute their disphony. Though I have to wonder how it is still acceptable for men to dress as women.
Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, F-Troop, and much later Dukes of Hazard continued this continuity and homogeneity of white culture cherishing its own loyalty while dealing with an invading outside world where any manner of stupidity was accepted internally but outsiders merely had to look different or sound different to be excluded. The real fear was corruption and community corrosion. Outsiders are always the problem. Conversion was possible but even then at a distance with memory. You could live some place most of your life but you weren’t born there.
This hegemony of WASPS was always illusory but as long as those in power were white and POC or other nonWASP were either good singers, good dancers, good workers, good actors, good doctors, and good lawyers and everyone knew their place it was sort of Ok because at least it was predictable. This was beaten about in Archie Bunker an updated and more edgy version of the Milton Berle show and the Honeymooners–the latter one of the most mean shows to women imaginable, surpassed only by I Love Lucy which was at least a woman making fun of women. Bunker cherished blue collar idiocy and further hybridized urbanism with rural values. Nevertheless, arch enemies had to live with each but not so pleasantly as before and not so accepting of each other. Bunker really emblemized the disintegration of the WASP civilization and not just the reaction to the Vietnam war. And on and on. TV continues this disintegration of community where the ubiquity of vampires and zombies plays out fears of otherness and contamination where the other can be both brilliant and evil, sentient andy prurient, dead and alive. At least zombies and vampires aren’t actual people, right?
As it has become more clear there is no going back some have driven forward with the action of sinking the ship rather than letting it go. A hyper moral version of taking your toys and going home in this version home is another world, an afterworld, or a fantasy world of postapocolyptic rapture here.
If you ever want an explanation for why some Republicans have grown downright giddy at the prospect of shutting down the federal government, this helps explain why. It’s not a coincidence that some of the biggest Bible-thumpers in Congress are those who are most supportive of finding some way to shut down the government. If you believe America isn’t really America unless the Christian right runs it, it’s not a short leap to look to destroying the system altogether. “If we can’t have it, no one can,” seems to be the guiding principle behind the push to shut down the federal government. They like to frame their claims that America will collapse if they aren’t in charge as warnings. But really, a better word for what they’re doing is “threats.”
What 9-11 really seems to have done in the states is taught many people that suicide bombing is for amateurs and the really righteous take down their own country rather than let it go.
Marcotte ends positively though briefly. Are these really threats and not achievable? Already the recession has continued beyond belief simply because the poor actually think their brothers and sisters deserve to be poor, the really rich hoard their money, and the paranoid wanna-be-wealthy are sure austerity will allow them to rise upwardly.
Jim Newman, bright and well