Friday, February 12, 2016

A Bad Taste

It started with a question: “What’s with all the bitterness?”

At the risk of being accused of creating a false equivalency, there are angry people on the Left just as there are angry people on the Right, but when I deal with people who consider themselves mainstream Republicans, there seems to be a rage, not just at the system or at particular politicians, but at everyone who sees the world differently from themselves. And this expresses itself, at least as I see it, as a level of bitterness directed at people who aren't in line with them.

This being the technological future and all, I decided that I would ask Google for the answer. Google was more than happy to oblige me, but the first thing I noticed is that most of the voices that sought to speak to the roots of the anger on the political Right were not themselves, of the Right. But I found an article on the National Review called: “The Nasty GOP?” and subtitled: “For some conservatives, the labels ‘nasty’ and ‘mean’ are well earned.”

It was interesting, but it mainly concerned itself with the people who were very much the public face of the Republican Party at the time, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santorum and Todd Akin, et cetera. And it didn't get to the heart of the matter. But, since it brought me to the National Review website, I poked around, and found another interesting piece, entitled: “Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and ‘No Apologies’ Conservatism” One of the points that it made about the Donald Trump Show, as one can call it, is this: “A significant portion of the Republican base craves it, and a handful of pro-Trump conservative pundits does, too.”

The piece then goes on to describe Mr. Trump’s “model of conservative discourse” as 1) say something controversial, and then 2) refuse to apologize. As the article goes on, it digs a little deeper into this, raising the following points. Trump (and a number of other conservative talking heads) always believes that he's correct, and therefore has nothing to apologize for. Trump sees apologizing (but not whining, it should be noted) as a severe weakness.

When other candidates apologize, Trump describes it as weakness. After former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley apologized to the Black Lives Matter movement for pointing out that “all lives matter,” Trump pounced. “[O’Malley] apologized like a little baby,” the GOP front-runner complained. “Like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby. And that’s the problem with our country.”
Finally, and here the article turns to its other subject, Ann Coulter, it is noted that part of this model of conservative discourse is intentional disrespect of people whose politics one disagrees with. The author, again Jim Geraghty, tries to hedge his bet with the observation that Mr. Trump has used this model to reach the top of the polls, “at least for now,” but that prompted me to think: “Wait a minute. Hasn't it been three years already since the last time you called the GOP out for being mean?”

Back in 2012, not long after Mitt Romney lost the election to President Obama, Mr. Geraghty listed out nasty things that Republican leaders had said about people who depend on government, Blacks, Hispanics, young voters, women, Moslems, gays and lesbians and noted: “In each one of these cases, the GOP and the Right have to think hard about whether this is the hill they want to die on.” Given the fact that it’s now the next Presidential election cycle and “A significant portion of the Republican base craves” more of the very same sort of language that leads people to believe that “Republicans don’t respect, understand, or welcome minorities,” or anyone else who doesn’t think as they do, it seems fairly evident to me that the answer is likely: “Yes,” if not “Hell, yes.”

In the end, this didn’t lead me to an answer to my initial question. I still don’t understand why the Republican/conservative view of the rest of the world is colored with raw contempt, and the idea that people who are not wholeheartedly on their side are somehow unworthy of even the most basic level of consideration. But I do think that I understand why it has come to run so deeply. Conservatives are no less enamored of criticism than the rest of us, and if there was one thing that I noted about the articles that I read was that they tended to pass the buck. Sure, Donald Trump was leading in the polls and Ann Coulter made herself wealthy by being nasty and mean-spirited, but Mr. Geraghty never says to the people who made this happen, the people who pledge support in polls or buy books and tickets to speaking engagements: “You need to be the ones to change this.” That hand-washing may be, in the end, at the root of the issue.

I’m not a pollster or a political analyst. So I have no insight into what’s going to happen for the rest of the election cycle. But it seems to me that if the one demographic who feels that your party respects them, and has their best interests at heart are older White men, and that the response to other people feeling shut out is to double down on the anger and contempt, you’re going to have a problem. Banking on the idea that people will lean more conservative as they age is one thing. But it only gets you those people who are now young. Women, minorities and the LGBT demographics are not going to become any more male, White or Straight as they get older. Hating on them seems to be the modern Republican Party busily signing it’s own death warrant.

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