This article was previously published in Banter M, our digital mag for members.
As I get older I have generally grown more tolerant and more understanding of those with diametrically opposed belief systems to my own. I count religious fundamentalists, atheists, radical feminists, vegans, and militant political activists as friends, despite thinking a lot of their beliefs are, well, pretty bonkers. 10 years ago, I would probably be arguing with most of them, trying to talk them out of whatever it was they believed in and attempting to get them to see things from my point of view.
At the age of 34 however, I have come to terms with the fact that a) changing peoples’ minds is nearly always impossible, b) I don’t really care too much as long as they aren’t hurting people, and c) if they are hurting people I don’t have to talk to them anyway. I’m a grown man with enough normal friends and can generally take it or leave it.
I certainly find reading the rantings of angry leftists, feminists and vegans jarring (or angry anyone for that matter), but in recent times I have come to the conclusion that the majority have good intentions and likely find meaning in their activism and a sense of identity through it. At the Banter, we often mock social justice warriors and the loony left (see Chez’s extensive body of work), but much of it is done out of a sense of frustration at their often counterproductive tactics rather than any serious animosity.
However, I cannot claim to take this more zen like attitude with Republicans, and I must confess to struggling with my own feelings towards them despite an intent to not take it so personally. The extreme Right in American hits a nerve and almost always induces a sense of unbridled outrage in me — and it is an outrage that I find almost impossible to contain.
Mostly, it is the unashamed ignorance, vindictiveness and pettiness that gets to me, and it is something I am unable to ignore. Coming from a country where conservatives and liberals at least operate in the same realm of reality (ie. a belief in science, supporting women’s reproductive rights, being opposed to climate change and so on), I am still unable to come to terms with a mainstream political party with prominent members who believe president Obama is a terrorist sympathizer and global warming a giant conspiracy orchestrated by liberal scientists. And I’ve lived in American on and off for almost 14 years now.
If Republicans did not control one major branch of government and were not taken seriously by the mainstream media, I am certain I would pay them absolutely no attention. There are right wing lunatics in the UK, but they are (up until recently that is), largely irrelevant to the national dialogue and treated as pariahs by the media. When a right wing idiot gets invited on television, they are invariably humiliated in the most withering fashion by the host and treated so badly they rarely show their faces again. The BBC’s Jeremy Paxman brutalized many a moron who dared to venture onto his Newsnight show, and the least competent politicians were routinely harangued and exposed. As well as being highly entertaining television, the savaging of idiocy in Britain serves to reinforce the message that mainstream political culture is not racist, not sexist, and not stupid. Of course there is wide disagreement between the two major parties, but for the most part conservatives genuinely want the best for the country and simply differ in how they believe it can be achieved.
The same cannot be said of many, many mainstream Republicans however, and their astonishing intransigence and obstructionism betrays the malevolence of their intent and their far, far more toxic attitude towards the public. American conservatives may claim to want the best for their country, but their openly hostile attitude towards women, LGBT people, minorities and liberals makes it incredibly difficult to believe.
The more sophisticated Republican operators do not come out and say it so blatantly, but the dog-whistle politics they employ cannot be interpreted any other way. Mitt Romney, the poster child for moderate Republicanism, used thinly veiled racism in his 2012 campaign against Obama, and insulted half of the country by implying they were parasites feeding off of the rich. When compared to other prominent Republicans like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina though, Mitt Romney comes across as a compassionate liberal.
So insane are the likes of Palin that they are not only hurling insults at gays and minorities, they are now openly advocating the overthrowing of their own government. Said Palin recently of the FBI’s decision not to imprison Hillary Clinton for her non-existent email crimes:
I insist Americans rise up and tear down this tyrannical system that is destroying America from within. Truly, you’re either with us or you’re against us.
And then we have Donald Trump — a grotesque freak, embodying the very worst elements of modern Republicanism who is now running for President.
The danger this represents to not only America but the rest of the world is very, very real. The Republican’s toxic brand of proud, xenophobic stupidity can be spread incredibly easily, particularly during times of economic hardship. If decent people do not work to contain this madness, then America could really have a fascist in office at the end of this year who would build a wall to keep out Mexicans, engage in war crimes, and openly discriminate against Muslim Americans.
The question in all of this then, is whether compassion is needed in dealing with Republican bigotry, or all out anger. It is a question I grapple with, and almost always come out in favor of fighting fire with fire. I have called voters for Donald Trump idiots, perhaps unjustly so. There are reasons why poor, disenfranchised people vote for monsters like Trump — they are scared and live uncertain, volatile lives due to economic circumstances not of their own making. Perhaps they are deserving of some sympathy as they are victims of a dysfunctional political system and a rigged economic game that works relentlessly to devalue their labor and enrich corporations and the wealthy.
But I cannot find much sympathy for the architects of this system and the politicians who have dedicated their lives to making it harder for working people to make a living and lead happy, healthy lives. The Republicans in congress work day in day out to gut environmental regulation, to prevent the raising of the minimum wage, to cut funding for public education, to lower taxes for the rich, to destroy welfare and limit access to affordable healthcare. They do this knowing the effect it will have, hiding behind the voodoo economic theory they have been promoting for 40 years that has seen the rich get richer and the poor fall off a cliff.
“Deficits don’t matter,” said Dick Cheney when he was warned of a looming fiscal crisis Bush’s Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in 2002. Of course they didn’t when that money was used to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan back into the Stone Age and give trillions back to corporate America. Yet deficits did matter to Republicans when Democrats wanted to spend money on schools and health care.
It is almost impossible to believe that Republicans don’t know exactly what they are doing, because the results of their disastrous policies are everywhere to see. After 8 years in the White House, Bush left the economy in tatters and the country’s infrastructure breaking at the seams. Yet the rich had more money than ever after the Bush administration solidified the tax structure and almost permanently rigged the economy to work for their benefit.
The truth is, modern Republicans don’t actually believe in anything other than lining their own pockets and helping out their wealthy friends. In America, they are still regarded as politicians, whereas elsewhere they would be considered dangerous oligarchs and gangsters.
And for that reason, I still can’t bring myself to tolerate their behavior or extend my compassion to them. The Zen can wait, at least until after November.
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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.