Conservatives like to present themselves as clear-eyed realists, but when mistakes are made, who holds them accountable?
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I’ve written before about the fact that the GOP is a party predicated on two interlocking supremacist ideologies (misogyny and white supremacy) which posit, separately and together, that a certain kind of person not only may, but by rights should, control the fortunes of certain other people.
That the straight white cis men who make up the bulk of the Republican Party, and the straight white cis women who serve as the bulk of that party’s handmaidens, believe this notion to be true—and that, moreover, the belief that some humans are superior to other humans has defined not just the GOP but all of American society since the nation’s founding—doesn’t change the fact that the belief is untethered from reality.
I’m not talking about the fact that no class of people is inherently superior to any other class of people, though that’s certainly true. I’m not even talking about the violence and dehumanization necessary to prop up such a worldview, which rather calls into question its actuality. No, I’m talking about the fact that even if you believe your power invests you with the capacity to control other people, even if you pass laws or kill people to prove it—you don’t. Yet we all suffer because of the GOP’s insistence on cosplaying as wizards.
Conservatives like to present themselves as clear-eyed realists—smart enough to know money doesn’t grow on trees and grown enough to lay down the law—their various cruelties and acts of self-service framed as toughness and grit. Spiking budget proposals that would feed hungry children isn’t unmitigated evil—it’s a good way to teach the kids and their parents a lesson. Endlessly increasing police budgets isn’t frittering away taxpayer funds to militarize the forces paid to serve and protect those very taxpayers—you just don’t understand how dangerous the world is. That the pockets of so many conservatives are lined with the profits that accrue from punishing the poor and arming the police is none of your concern.
Meanwhile, of course, liberals are framed as dreamers, idealists, hippies, and bleeding hearts. We call for universal pre-K and an end to student debt; the realists sternly insist such luxuries are beyond the nation’s grasp. We fight for greater justice and equity; the realists inform us confidently that justice looks like mass incarceration, and equity like women earning 54-90 cents for every dollar made by a white man. Meanwhile the hippies are called upon to explain where on earth we’re going to find money for more housing assistance, even as the realists need never justify their spending on prisons or wars.
All this not least because ideologies of supremacy exist in a universe of binaries, with little room for nuance, imperfection, or variety. There are only rules and sides, and if you break or choose the wrong one, welp, you reap what you sow.
Which is frankly remarkable, because the universe keeps proving conservatives wrong—and yet they remain doggedly unwilling to prepare for or even acknowledge error and/or ill-fortune, despite not just the lessons of history but the simple and abiding truth that all humans, everywhere, will both fail and be failed.
All of us. You, me, and them. We’ll all do things we regret, make decisions that don’t pan out, and, not for nothing, continue attempting to put one foot in front of the other in our easily broken human form. We will also, each and every one of us, be failed by others—by a boss who unceremoniously shutters a business, a parent who can’t get it together, or a series of doctors who don’t notice that tumor.
Humans and human systems inevitably fail. At base, in our policies and politics, liberals admit this, and, rather than punish people for not achieving an immutable standard established by people with power, try to acknowledge and plan for it—not always very successfully, which kind of underscores my point—in advance.
One would think that the party that launched a 20-year-long losing war and is even now overseeing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans most of whom need not have died would also show some humility. But that, you may have gathered, is not the Republican way.
Which brings me to a recent report in the New York Times.
Three weeks after the state of Texas enacted a law (TX SB8) banning abortions after six weeks and allowing for anyone to sue anyone else who obtains, performs, or “aids and abets” an abortion, or merely “intends” to do any of the above, the Times reported that anti-abortion leaders in Texas “never expected many people to actually file lawsuits… the notion behind the law was that the mere threat of liability would be so intimidating that providers would simply comply.” This, of course, after two people filed lawsuits because someone didn’t comply.
The people behind TX SB8 believe not only that they may legislate the internal organs of fully half of Texas’ residents, but that they by rights should—and that, furthermore, merely by asserting their authority over the futures and fortunes of every Texan born with a vagina, they will create a world, or at least a Texas, in which abortion ceases to exist. Magic!
Whereas liberals/Democrats/hippies/etc. know that people will, as they have throughout history, have all kinds of sex the GOP doesn’t like; that a lot of that sex will be consensual and some of it will not; that some cases of both will result in unwanted pregnancies; and that declaring that the state will “eliminate all rapists from the streets,” as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did in response to criticism of the new law’s failure to provide exceptions for rape and incest, is magical thinking at its absolute most deranged.
Because we understand all of that, the left also understands that people will always need and always get abortions—the question, dear conservatives, is not “if” but “whether their lives will be destroyed in the process.”
Another painfully obvious fact that the GOP as a party and conservatives more broadly seem unable to grok is that angry, chaotic forces always have their own agenda, even when harnessed to your nominally less-chaotic cause. If you court people who hate women so much they’d kill a few in cold blood rather than allow them to control their own fates—some of those people will do just that. If you court people who want to establish a white supremacist theocracy, with all the attendant violent misogyny that implies—some of those people will go to the Capitol on a cold January day to try to do just that.
But rather than acknowledge not just human error but human frailty, variety, foibles, range, joys, sorrows, or the impact of outside forces on any individual life, the GOP’s hard-nosed realists insist that they can stand athwart reality yelling “stop,” and it’ll work.
This column may be my own attempt to do the same, of course, because the idea that we as a nation will start calling Republicans out as the viperous fantasists they are is surely the delusion of an unrepentant optimist if ever there was one.
But hey, the GOP may have legally stripped me of the power to make my own decisions about my own internal organs in most states of the Union, but they can’t keep a girl from dreaming.
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