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The “Right-Wing Nut-job” Problem

April 19th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The tax-day tea-parties of the past week have really bothered me, enough to the point where I feel I can actually write another journal entry of pure political commentary around it. I’ll do my best to say something other than what every other liberal blogger in the world has already said millions of times.

In just about every poll regarding an issue dividing the far-right from everybody else, the percentage falls somewhere between 20 and 30 percent. That was Bush’s approval rating during the better part of his second term once it was obvious to all but the most hardcore conservative Christians that he was an incompetent fool who was doing serious damage to the country. That’s how many people agree with Dick Cheney that torture keeps Americans safe and that Obama is making us less safe by ending this policy. That’s how many people believe that Armageddon is coming within the next decade, that Obama is the Anti-Christ, that God spends all of His time up in heaven worrying about abortion and same-sex marriage, that evolution is a myth promoted by sinful scientists rebelling against God, and so on. So it would seem that 20 to 30 percent of Americans are what many of us would identify as “right-wing nut-jobs”.

And these are the nut-jobs who came out in droves this April 15th to protest Obama’s 3% tax increase on the rich. The idea that this Barack Hussein Obama, this black muslim liberal fascist socialist radical nazi non-citizen communist would have the audacity to make the rich people in this country pay the same amount of taxes they paid in the 1990s (less than they paid under Reagan in the 80s) is just too much to bear! A line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere, damn it, and these people are not going to sit idly by as their taxes get cut while the wealthiest 10% have to make up the difference. That’s spreading the wealth! That’s punishing rich people for their success! How are they supposed to become millionaires when Obama and his team of liberal communist fascists are just going to take that money away from them as soon as they start to earn it? Clearly it’s not their stupidity, incompetence, laziness, or ignorance that’s preventing them all from becoming hugely successful entrepreneurs. It’s those damned tax-and-spend liberals (who are also communists and fascists) who won’t let them!

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, and what makes it tragic is that you just can’t explain to these people how badly they’ve been duped. They think that you’re opinion is automatically wrong because you’ve been brain-washed by the liberal media while their point of view is right because their opinions come from the Church (which has never been associated with brain-washing) and from Fox News (which is the only fair-and-balanced news network on television). If you try to explain that Fox News is nothing more than a profit-driven business that consistently promotes right-wing ideology in order to boost their ratings with the sizable “right-wing nut-job” demographic, they’ll laugh at you for buying into the lies of the left-wing propaganda machine. To them, the idea of a right-wing propaganda machine is completely absurd.

The whole thing is so frustrating to me because I would like to live in a world governed by reason, where if one side of an argument is clearly right and the other is clearly wrong, that you’d be able to explain it to someone, to just present them with the clear facts of the matter, and they’d understand their mistake and change their opinion accordingly. But the hardcore right-wing nut-jobs seem to have a mental-block which renders them completely unresponsive to reason.

It’s one thing for issues like abortion and the death penalty, where there are good arguments on both sides and where you stand is just a matter of whether you’re coming from the liberal or conservative end of the ideological spectrum. If someone believes that abortion is wrong in all cases and that it’s the government’s duty to protect the lives of the unborn, you can’t make a rational argument against that. You can merely assert your position that “abortion may be wrong but women ought to have the right to make the wrong decision without the government’s involvement,” but beyond that there’s nothing you can do.

But it’s a completely different matter when it’s a question of facts and all of the facts indicate that one side of the argument is right and the other is dead wrong. The issue of torture, for instance, is the best example of a one-sided issue. The moral argument is against it—it’s simply wrong to cause suffering. But the practical argument can be made that it’s justifiable to cause suffering if by doing so you’re preventing even more suffering. But study after study, account after eyewitness account, have demonstrated quite conclusively that torture is not an effective method for gathering intelligence. Furthermore, by torturing suspected Arab terrorists we’ve enraged the Arab world and allowed the extremists to recruit far more insurgents and suicide bombers than they would have otherwise been able to. As a result of these policies of torture, not only have we most likely caused unimaginable suffering to—in at least a few cases—completely innocent people, but American soldiers have DIED as a result of bombs detonated in retaliation for our policy of torture. It’s a policy that causes ONLY suffering. By any rational interpretation of the facts, absolutely no good whatsoever has resulted from this country’s use of torture. And yet these people STILL defend it.

So let’s return to the tax-day tea parties. Every single thing the protesters are speaking out against can be refuted with cold hard logical facts. First of all, they’re against a crushing tax-burden imposed by the federal government. Well, for one thing Obama is CUTTING taxes for 95% of Americans, for another thing his tax-rates for the rich will be lower than they were under Reagan, and for the final thing the United States has one of the lowest tax-rates in the entire world. And it’s not like tax money just goes straight to Barack Obama’s personal bank account (which he no doubt uses to finance Muslim terrorist groups in their plots to destroy Christianity), but it actually goes to things like INFRASTRUCTURE. If you don’t want to pay any taxes at all, that’s fine, but then you have to give up roads, police forces, public schools, and the military.

So they’re against taxing. And they’re also against spending. When the economy is in free-fall, they now profess to believe, the right thing to do is to freeze all unnecessary spending and buckle down as a nation until the crisis is over. Never mind the fact that without government spending the hole just gets deeper and deeper, that a spending-freeze is exactly what Herbert Hoover tried at the beginning of the Great Depression and it royally fucked things up afterwards. The facts don’t matter here. If Obama wants to do it, it must be wrong. After all, he is the anti-Christ.

Which brings me to the real heart of the matter. These people are not opposed to any particular ideology. They don’t have a strong enough understanding of economics or history to make a solid argument for their case against taxing and spending. They simply hate Barack Obama because he doesn’t look like them or talk like them and it seems like the “Other” that they fear so much is now driving this precious “Christian-nation” of theirs straight down the secular-progressive path to Hell. Whatever Obama does must be wrong. Even if Bush did the same exact thing, like bailing out the banks.

Is there any route around the impenetrable wall these people have built around their beliefs? Or must we accept that there will always be nut-jobs on the far right (and to be fair, there are those on the far left as well) who will never listen to reason no matter how compelling? I don’t know the answer to that, but perhaps a change in the tone of our discourse is what’s required. It seems to be the one thing we liberals haven’t seriously tried.

It’s extremely easy to laugh at these people or get angry at them for calling the president a baby-killing Nazi or what have you, but once we perceive them as the eternal “Other” we’ve made the same mistake as they have. As difficult—indeed as impossible—as it may seem to be at times, I believe we have to approach them with sympathy and respect. To see deeper than their politically-misinformed and misdirected anger and recognise them as real human beings with hopes and fears and dreams just like everyone else.

It all boils down to a question of identity. These people have been tricked into identifying themselves with their own political beliefs. They will not listen to reason because their gut tells them what is right and they trust their gut more than they trust their brain. “I am a conservative. That means I vote republican, I’m against abortion, I support the use of torture, etc.” Today, thanks to Limbaugh, Beck, and the others from whom they get their opinions, it also means “I oppose tax increases for the wealthy, I support a spending freeze, and I believe Obama is a communist and a fascist who is trying to destroy America.”

They will not alter their beliefs because among those beliefs is the very dangerous idea that one’s own beliefs should never be altered. To change my mind about an issue, I have to recognise that my previous position was wrong. But to them it’s not just “my position on an issue” that would be wrong, but their “self”. There is no difference in their mind between saying “My opinion was wrong” and saying “I was wrong.” They make no distinction in their minds is between their true essence, the conscious awareness looking out from behind their eyes, and the neurons firing through their brains whenever a word like “taxes” or “immigration” is uttered. Someone needs to help them understand that reconnecting those neural pathways does not destroy their identity. Conscious awareness will continue to permeate their bodies and the brain will continue firing neurons just as before, and they may even feel all the wiser for having had the strength to adopt a new, more factually-harmonious perspective.

At least that’s how I’ve always felt every time I’ve changed my mind about something, which is often. I grew up as a conservative Christian republican, and didn’t start seriously re-examining my beliefs until high school.

Finally, if we want those on the right to cease identifying themselves with their political beliefs, we must stop identifying them with their beliefs as well. That means resisting the urge to laugh at or attack them, to abandon terms like “right-wing nut-job”, and to always keep in mind that had we been born and raised under the same exact circumstances as them, we would be just as tragically wrong about so many things as they are.

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