Since I wrote my last blog entry back in February, the world has changed. The coronavirus happened, and some people are saying we shouldn’t talk about things like politics any more, because it’s just not that important. But politics matter, and in times of crisis they matter if anything more because they’re governing the direction our country will be heading into the future. And in case you hadn’t noticed, even if it’s considered gauche to talk about, politics continue even when no one dares to analyze them.
So, I carry on.
In my last piece, I talked about how I had given up for a while on writing about politics, but I’d restarted again because I felt like it was my responsibility to push back on things that many people assume to be true, that are not true.
And I’m sure a lot of people said War? Come on, atomic, you gotta be exaggerating here.
But I’m not. I believe we are closer to a civil war than at any point in my adult life. I feel like we’re (in the words of Jim Steinman/Bonnie Tyler) livin’ in a powder keg and giving off sparks and the weird thing is, a whole lot of people don’t even seem to care. A whole lot of people in any given moment seem hell bent on giving off MORE sparks. The few of us who try to act as voices of reason within our own respective movements, are immediately lumped in as working for “the bad guys”. I would go so far as to say this is one of the major things that has changed over the course of my life. The voices of reason, of moderation, who used to be listened to and respected even when it was secretly disagreed-with, are shouted down and even demonized as simply another set of enemies. If you don’t believe me, Google “Centrists are the literal worst” because there are a whole lot of people out there, particularly on the left, who view anyone willing to compromise with the opposition as traitors even worse than overt political enemies.
It’s been my hope as the Covid crisis developed, that by seeing how quickly our world can be turned upside down and inside out, how quickly all this unprecedented liberty and comfort and safety so many take completely for granted can go away leaving us not only with no toilet paper and boneless chicken breasts, but no ANYTHING, not even liberty and comfort and security, would wake people up to how precarious our situation truly is. But it doesn’t seem to be the case. People are still continuing to spew hate and create/consume/share fake news and actually ROOT for our country to fail so they can own the other side.
It’s insane. Even I, who knew all along it could come down to this, finds it insane.
One of the more dismaying things I’ve seen the past month is people who I respect and love, people who raised me to be the relatively thoughtful, ethical, empathetic person I like to think that I am, delighting…DELIGHTING…in people they politically disagree with getting and even dying from coronavirus. And I don’t mean politicians like Boris Johnson, I mean actual human beings like people whose “sin” was going to church or watching Fox News. I’m having a really hard time seeing the person who exhorted to me, time after time, to “never judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins” (it was a different time then) DELIGHTING in seeing people die from coronavirus because they don’t have the “right” beliefs. I don’t even know what to do with that. I truly don’t.
So yeah. I do think it’s war. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve never been good at pretending the Emperor has no clothes.
What does war look like, anyway? We all know what the later stages look like, all yelling and shooting and bleeding and dying, but I think war starts off long before it turns into war-war. I suspect that in most of humanity’s conflagrations, before there was a single shot fired, there was a war being waged for hearts and minds. A war in which each side was still mulling things over, thinking things through, and that is a war women fight just as much as men do if not even more so. We encounter it every time we go to the store or church or our child’s school and overhear our loved ones and neighbors and our frenemies saying things that are wrong, wrong, wrong. People don’t want to realize this is war and they particularly don’t want to realize they have to be the ones to fight it, but it is and you do.
Why not just play nice though?? I mean, if we’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks, why give off MORE sparks by challenging people? Why escalate and aggravate by pointing out inconvenient truths like “actually, people who live in America’s rural areas are NOT stupid racist inhuman monsters”? Why not just nod and smile and grab your green beans or your children and be on your way? Doesn’t it just increase the divisions to push back?
People say that to me, in fact someone said it fairly recently, and I understand where they’re coming from. I really do. But there’s a huge gulf between calling someone a snowflake or similar demeaning names to escalate an argument, and pointing out an ugly belief that a person may not have thought through. These things are not the same, and equating them is completely unfair. Because ugly and ignorant beliefs snowball if they’re never pushed back on. They grow and pick up speed until they become completely unstoppable when ignored.
In fact that’s exactly what ugly beliefs are like, is a snowball rolling down a hill. They start off small, and are easily stopped with a gentle hand. Maybe if they get a little momentum built up, they roll till they smack into a tree and stop rolling, or even disintegrate totally. But if you let them keep rolling along without meeting any resistance at all, pretty soon they have enough speed and mass to obliterate anything in their paths and then boom, that’s the end of your ski lodge.
We – those of us with those moderating, reasonable voices – have to push back on the little things because little things become big things and big things cannot be stopped. And even though I know everyone rightfully hates Nazi references, you don’t wait till Hitler’s having a rally with tens of thousands of people in it to stand in the middle of the crowd and be all like “you know, I like the Jews, they’re good people, just like you and me, and the stuff you’re saying about them is bullshit”. That fight needed to be fought in grocery stores and churches and schools, and it needed to be fought by all reasonable people, thereby stopping that ugly and ignorant snowball, long before Hitler ever came to power. And it needed to be fought even if the people talking shit about Jews in 1920 didn’t like you that much for saying something about it.
As most of you know already, I believe the conservative reluctance to engage and push back because we wanted to play nice and avoid social censure has brought about a state of affairs in which it’s nearly impossible to communicate with liberals, because liberals don’t honestly KNOW much about what conservatives think, feel, and believe. At least, not much that didn’t come from their own side – many of whom profit bigly from the business of demonizing cons. This is not the rank and file liberals’ fault. It is not even the liberal grifters’ fault.
It is OUR fault, conservatives. You cannot fault a person for having ugly and ignorant beliefs if their beliefs are never challenged and brought to the light. You cannot fault a person for believing a thing if they’ve only ever heard one side from everyone they ever talked to. You cannot fault a person for not stopping to think about something if no one ever said “well achtually” to them, in their whole entire lives. It is our fault, conservatives, our fault for keeping our mouths shut to keep the peace, for letting the liberals take over Hollywood and the media and the school system and using them to indoctrinate everyone while we did nothing, for keeping our beliefs secret to be sure no one ever thought the worse of us for our “embarrassing” and “problematic” beliefs.
A couple weeks back on Twitter there was a blue check (a member of the “official press”) who was in a minor car accident somewhere in rural America. He was flabbergasted, FLABBERGASTED that the emergency responders and tow truck drivers and car repairmen were nice to him. He said he was surprised that they were kind to “someone with New York licence plates and a California driver’s license”. He was shocked that people in Middle America treated he and his family (including a small child, to whom one of the responders generously gave a little stuffed animal present) with kindness and decency. It was apparently some sort of mind-boggling revelation to the guy that he received excellent and skillful post-accident treatment, let alone kindness and generosity in a red state.
Do you understand how fucked up this is? A member of the American press corps fully believed with every fiber of his being that after being in a car accident, because he was from New York City (New York City?? GET A ROPE! That’s how rural people think, right?? Like a stupid commercial from the 1980s that was set in cowboy times) or maybe California that he was going to encounter rudeness and hostility at best, or be sacrificed to our rural gods or something at worst, like he’d stumbled into Midsommar by crashing his car in the wrong place. And he posted this in complete seriousness! Please understand, his amazement was NOT centered around the notion that “oh wow gosh maybe I was wrong about rural people all along, they actually are nice, normal, and talented” either BTW. He posted from a perspective of “OMG guys can you believe there actually ARE a couple cool people in Red States, they’re not all actually inbred troglodytes, isn’t that AMAZEBALLZ?” He learned absolutely nothing from the experience. His completely flawed and disgusting underlying assumption remained the same, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
If ever there was something that needed to be pushed back on, it was that. And so I politely did, politely, mind you, gently, maybe even, and from a fellow conservative, I got “OMG CAN’T YOU JUST BE NICE” like I was calling the dude a snowflake or being inflammatory in some way, when I absolutely was not in any way shape or form. I found that pretty ironic given the fact that I’ve gone out of my way to reach out to liberals again and again and been repeatedly shit on as I’ve talked about in the past, and also because I’m such a vocal critic of meanspiritedness among conservatives as I’ve also talked about in the past, but I digress.
(I’m not gonna screenshot this because the whole thing was frustrating and I don’t particularly want to keep going with an argument I walked away from by going to look it up. If you haven’t seen this type of exchange happen 500k times per year on social media, you’re probably not spending much time on social media. But it happened exactly the way I am characterizing it.)
Can you please try to understand, my eminently respectable conservative peeps, try and wrap your little Bulwark-soaked brains around this factoid – a whole lot of basically decent leftists ACTUALLY believe that everyone on the right lives in Rural America, and furthermore see everyone who lives in Rural America as inhuman barely-literate monsters who are inflamed to hostility at the sight of a license plate that reads “New York” on it. That’s not hyperbole. It’s not a political ploy. They BELIEVE IT. And the reason why they find something that goddamn ridick so easy to believe is that all us nice and normal people keep our mouths shut because we don’t want anyone to think we are a big fat meanie pants leaving only whack jobs like Milo and Richard Spencer flapping their decidedly awful and disgusting flappers. Much of this is by design, with the media amplifying the handful of terrible conservative voices whilst muting the many sensible ones, but much of it is the failure of people like you and me to ever say a word even in the face of really gross and terribly wrong beliefs.
And that is on us. It is our fault, and our failing. We have been cowardly in the face of being attacked again and again. We acted like we were getting attacked by a bear and played dead and hoped it would all go away. But it isn’t going away. I know Jesus says to turn the other cheek and everything, but this is ridiculous. We fight now, or we fight later.
We’re standing here dumbly staring up at all these giant snowballs of ugly and hateful beliefs plummeting down Mount Everest at us, wondering why everyone thinks we’re such awful people that we need to be reeducated and even eradicated when all we’re doing is holding a set of time-honored beliefs about the nature of people and the position of government that was respected by just about everyone up until the past 25 years or so even when they disagreed with them. But in case you haven’t noticed, over the past 25 years a whole lot of people up and decided that conservatives are Actual Bad Guys and Actual Bad Guys deserve to be annihilated. DESERVE TO BE ANNIHILATED.
They believe this because you and to a lesser extent, I, let them believe it.
You wanted them to like you, and in trying to curry their favor and “be nice” you ended up staying silent in the face of unforgivable lies and seemingly depthless toxicity. You let even their ugliest and wrongest beliefs go unchallenged because you didn’t want people to think you were “mean.” And I did it too. I was busy, I was tired, I was afraid, I wanted people who I liked, to like me in return. I understand it’s hard to fight the good fight. It carries a price and I haven’t always been willing to pay it. But the bill has come due. We can’t put off paying at least the minimum balance. So I’m not going to keep silent any more, even if it ends up with my fellow cons thinking I’m part of the problem when I am so totally not. And you shouldn’t either.
Because this is war. Like global pandemics, war comes at you whether you want it or not. It comes if you’re ready for it or not. I hate to break it to you, Internet friends and e-neighbors, but in war, you gotta be confrontational sometimes. Some people are going to conflate confrontational with meanness, that’s just how it goes. But by being a little bit “mean” sooner, by calling some asshole out on their bullshit online in the here and now even though it may be a little awkward and upsetting for everyone involved, it may be that we don’t have to be very, very mean later on.
Please decent people across the political aisle, but most especially conservatives – Join me! Don’t wait till you’re that one little voice in the middle of tens of thousands of people calling for good sense and self-restraint. Don’t wait till unstoppable forces like gravity or mob mentality overwhelm you, because I promise, you are not an immovable object. You are a small and fragile person probably with even smaller and fragile-er children, and you’re all standing in the path of a snowball of indeterminate size and speed. When it comes it’s going to be coming at you with the suddenness of the coronavirus, only it’s gonna be a lot less discerning about who it kills. Your ski lodge will not be enough to protect you. If you don’t believe it, I suggest you Google this thing called “The 20th Century”, it’s fairly illuminating.
Strap on your snowshoes, climb through that deep snow up to the top of the hill with me and let’s stomp on those tiny snowballs before they really get rolling.
2 thoughts on “War? Good God, y’all!”
Great post as usual. As I may have told you (apologies for repeating, if I am), at work almost all of my colleagues trend liberal (as do I). We’re probably the among the stereotypically insufferable type of liberal, too: Most of us have a lot of formal education and we’re government employees and….
….I hear quite a lot about “those people”–those rural, science-hating, god-believing racists–who are making it hard for the good people like them. I admit I almost never (maybe never) call out that type of talk. And I find myself biting my lip. They’re also (most of them) pretty hardcore anti-evangelical christian. That grates on me a bit, as I was raised partly in that tradition, even though I’m no longer a believer. (I was also raised partly as a Catholic. I feel safe disclosing that to my coworkers, but not the evangelical part.)
There are probably times when I could have spoken up, not necessarily in a confrontational way. Being too confrontational or confrontational in the wrong way violates workplace norms that I endorse. But I often (usually) decline the opportunity to give gentle reminders to my coworkers.
They are, in fact, decent people, like the decent liberals you refer to. And to some extent, what they say is actually a reflection of a sincerely felt sense of being disempowered or beleaguered by what they see as conservatism. We could and should dispute whether they really are disempowered and whether their view of conservatism is accurate or not, but I do believe they’re sincere. So I guess that kind of supports your argument that dangerous beliefs start out with sincerity and without intent to the war/conflict to which they lead.