Conservatives have sold Americans on the false idea that the GOP is the party of the hard-working people. But disenfranchising voters and taking away affirmative action isn’t hard work; it’s a scam to ensure perpetual white cis-male privilege.
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We don’t spend enough time appreciating one of the most basic tenets of American conservative politics: laziness. The American right wing’s propensity for doing absolutely nothing—intellectually, emotionally, economically—always seems to be outshined by its other core qualities, perhaps most notably: bigotry and greed. And certainly those things deserve attention, and plenty of it. But if we look closely, we’ll find that there’s a strong strain of laziness entwined in those beliefs and behaviors.
The suggestion that Republicans are not hard-working, industrious go-getters supporting the very backbone of America through their blood, sweat, and tears while the rest of the country collects welfare and dicks around on our phones runs counter to the American Right’s extremely successful decades-long propaganda campaign. And it’s worked on pretty much everyone. A 2022 Pew poll asked Republicans and Democrats to discuss the worst qualities of their political opposites, such as whether they are “immoral,” “dishonest,” “unintelligent,” “closed-minded,” or “lazy.” Of all of those options, Democrats were least likely to describe Republicans as lazy, and also less likely to describe other Democrats as hard-working compared to conservatives talking about their own peers.
On its own, a messaging campaign that has successfully situated an entire swath of partisan America as fundamentally harder working than their politically liberal neighbors is impressive enough. The fact that this campaign has also had the effect of convincing folks on the Left that we ourselves are essentially less hardworking than right-wingers? That borders on masterful.
So I will give credit where it is due: If Republicans deserve recognition for any hard work at all, it is for running an incredible scam on the American people. And of course it is a scam, because scammers are lazy before they are anything else. It’s a real Mobius strip of a grift that relies on white supremacy, classism, respectability, and plain old pigheaded rhetorical commitment to saying the same thing repeatedly until it becomes true.
But two key factors explode the myth of the hard-working conservative: First, corruption in American politics tends to manifest historically and in the most spectacular fashion with right-wingers, conservatives, and Republicans. Laziness and corruption—which is all about taking shortcuts—go hand-in-hand. Second: The GOP has a well-documented projection problem. Conservatives love accusing other people—especially people of color and low-income folks, who are more likely to lean to the left—of being lazy and entitled.
This is neither an accident nor a coincidence. The GOP is the political faction most concerned with preserving and perpetuating white supremacy and patriarchy. Its members, supporters, and representatives, who disproportionately skew white and male, were born on third base, and they intend to stay there. The trouble is, they don’t really know how, because the concept of meritorious achievement and real hard work is in fundamental opposition to the presumptions of entitlement. And so they lie and cheat and steal and grift and scam, all the while trying to convince everyone else that they are the sweat-drippingest, boot-strappingest, law-and-orderiest stand-up folks around, and everyone else—particularly those working the hardest with the fewest resources—are the real layabouts.
The finger-pointing would be bad enough on its own, but right-wingers, conservatives, and Republicans are not satisfied with stopping there. So insecure in their slackerdom that the only thing they are willing to invest their efforts into is securing their privileges and ensuring that others have none. Examples abound: The end of affirmative action is, of course, a fundamentally racist project intended to make less work for white college applicants. The Supreme Court ruling striking down a nationwide student loan-forgiveness plan will disproportionately harm young Black women, keeping them beholden to debts that their older, more racially privileged peers have a significantly easier time paying off, even as Republicans crow about young people being unwilling to repay their loans and getting a “free ride.” Indeed, Baby Boomers—many of whom are Republicans—have repeatedly accused Millennials and Gen Z of preferring to spend our money on avocado toast and fast fashion instead of home mortgages.
But the truth is that our overwhelmingly right-leaning elders screwed over the economy ages ago. Conservatives use lies about “trickle-down” economics to justify the astronomical salaries of do-nothing C-suite executives. Most recently, queer and transgender people—children and young people especially—have been derided by right-wing bigots as soft and entitled, of having it “too easy” when in fact they face tremendous hurdles to accessing basic safety, public restrooms that correspond with their gender, health care, securing employment, and obtaining housing, just for starters. And it’s not even just the big policy stuff—Republicans exposed their own laziness during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when they refused to get vaccinated or wear masks, even to save their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Because empathy takes effort. Learning takes effort. Intellectual curiosity takes effort. Creativity takes effort. Progress takes effort. It is no wonder that conservative think-tanks and wannabe academic projects are expressly opposed to these concepts, instead fixating on maintaining the status quo, conflating wealth with hard work, and creating echo chambers where right-wingers can complain to each other about how tough they have it.
Look at the nationwide Republican project of voter suppression and gerrymandering. Disenfranchisement is explicitly borne of white supremacy, and operates with the express purpose of preventing people of color from exercising their most fundamental right as Americans. In addition to being explicitly racist, it’s some truly lazy shit. Preventing people unlikely to vote the way you wish from voting in the first place is vastly easier than working to change their minds, or even drumming up support within your existing base.
These people? They do not want to work. They want to play and profit. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito want to go on luxury vacations and have Republican donors do their thinking for them. Donald Trump has never worked a single day in his 77 years on Earth, and he is not going to start now if he can help it. Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is so lazy that part of his impeachment charges stem from the fact that he literally could not be bothered to make the 90-minute drive from Austin to San Antonio to see his mistress, so he used his political influence to get the woman a local job with his wealthy co-conspirator.
Of course, conservatives are morally bankrupt hypocrites, and maybe that appears to take some effort. I would argue, though, that being corrupt and perpetuating oppression is a hell of a lot easier if you’re not much bothered by the prospect of screwing over other people. A lot comes into focus when we view conservative beliefs and behavior as being primarily rooted in indolence. Things become even clearer when we see power and privilege as being correlated not with hard work and elbow grease, but with idleness.
It is absolutely bigotry and hatred and hard-heartedness and self-interest that inspires Republicans to suppress votes, ban abortion, attack trans people, criminalize immigrants, and exploit workers and students. But underneath all of that is the very real fear that if they don’t keep others down, they may have to experience a fraction of what they have long expected folks of color, LGBTQ folks, and disabled folks, among many others, to endure without compensation or complaint. They will have to stop taking shortcuts, and start putting in the same effort the rest of us do.
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