25 January 2012
The conservative right has some old leftist failings
The United States invented the loyalty oath, inflicting it, ironically, on the loyalists who had had the temerity to disagree with the founding fathers. In fact, proportionately more Americans fled the 13 ex-colonies after 1776 than Russians and French left their countries after their revolutions. In a similar form, for much of the 20th century, the left made various shibboleths a test of authentic “lefthood”, whether support for the nationalisation of assorted numbers of companies from 50 to 500, support for Provisional IRA terror, support for gay marriage, Cuba and Hugo Chávez. Such “support” was, and usually still is, inconsequential in its practical effects on its subjects.
The issues might have more tangible reality than Gulliver’s Big-enders and Little-enders warring about which end to begin a boiled egg, but the real purpose of declarations like this is not to change the world but separate the pure in heart from the thought-criminals and to reinforce the collective identity of the former by presenting a common foe. Such tests are not nuanced; they are intended to divide, not grade. The American right has now totally adopted this old leftist habit. For the past decade, the Republican Party’s conservative activists have had a list as long as the Lord High Executioner’s. Complete opposition to abortion, to teaching evolution, gay marriage, to any tax increases at all, to any cuts in defence expenditure and most recently and (one hopes suicidally) to any controls at all on the sale or ownership of weapons of mass murder.
That many of these tests are mutually exclusive in the real world matters not one jot. The cynical swine who manipulate these issues are trying to mobilise donations, on the one hand, and a broad mass of activist nutters – “the wackos”, as one lobbyist described them in the case of Jack Abramoff, that, unusually, resulted in a six -year sentence for corruption. Abramoff’s lobbyists had enlisted the evangelical right, “the wackos”, to stop the extension of gambling to riverboats in the south, evoking the morbid fundamentalist sense of sin. But, in fact, the fundamentalists were duped into acting on behalf of the Indian tribes who wanted to maintain their monopoly on legal gambling and were prepared to pay Abramoff big dollars to do so.
In the current context, the National Rifle Association invokes the United Nations as a threat to American sovereignty and gun-owners’ rights, not because there is any substance whatsoever for such allegations, but because it acts as an adjuvant in a vaccine, adding the conspiratorial fervour and energy of American xenophobia to the gun lobby’s efforts. Indeed, perhaps the only thing saving the UN from more such outpourings is that it is easier to harness the bile of the many Americans who hate Barack Obama because he is black – which is, of course, true – but also that they see him as a foreigner, a Muslim.
Last weekend was Martin Luther King Day in the US, as well as President Obama’s inauguration say in Washington DC. While both stand as a symbol of progress, we can be sure that the American media will not dwell on King’s real record as a democratic socialist, a supporter of unions and strikes and an opponent of the Vietnam War, let alone as the victim of FBI spying. That Americans celebrate such days is a sign of progress, but when you look at how many Americans believe three impossible things before breakfast, and even how the media lionise politicians who should really be in a padded cell rather than voting in the chambers of the US Congress, you have to wonder.
It would be difficult to pin down precisely the cause of this tide of irrationality that we hope has now reached a peak, but a major contributing factor has to be Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, which has succeeded in bringing into the mainstream views that had hitherto been regarded as deranged and outlandish. The good news is that, in the long term, enough Americans are dismayed enough by such ravings to turn out to vote against them. We can hope that the conservative ideologues have won the party but lost the country.