Forward into the past with the new old Right
On this occasion, two things inspire me (if that’s the right word). One is the latest Ross Douthat column, which sucks and which I’ll get to later; the other is this bit from a Marietta Daily Journal story about something a controversial Cobb County (Ga.) Board of Education official recently said:
Responding to a lengthy post from former Cobb GOP Chairman Jason Shepherd on the story of Martin Luther — the German monk who kicked off the Protestant-Catholic split 500 years ago — [David] Banks’s Facebook account posted the following comment:
“The Roman Catholic Church can not be Christian. More paganism in its beliefs. If Roman Catholics read the Bible They would realize the false doctrines. Only Jesus Christ is the head of the church.”
The response of the school board chairman when questioned about this is pathetically hilarious and vice-versa (“I really can’t comment on that, other than the fact that Mr. Banks is expressing an opinion, and it has nothing to do with school board business…”). But seeing this out-loud, old-school anti-Catholicism from a COVID denialist wingnut like Banks is, given the times we live in, piquant.
Once upon a time, of course, anti-Catholicism was pretty much part of our American heritage — whether in the violent KKK manner or in the rock-ribbed Thomas Nast “American River Ganges” manner. But as education and progressivism spread a spirit of toleration across the land, many people gave up that prejudice, among others, and soon such anti-outsider sentiments were left to those who would become what we now call the conservative base.
Later, though, the rise of the Religious Right made conservatism more ecumenical, at least when it came to fellow Christians, and today the movement has got highly-placed Catholics doing their dirty work for them, particularly on the Supreme Court.
I should think good Proddy patriots like Cobb would know this, and strategically suppress their doctrinal disputes until such time as the eschaton is immanentized, at which point they can have a cosmic throwdown and may the best sect win.
Yet Cobb couldn’t keep it back. And I like to think it’s because there’s been a kind of all-clear sounded on the right that the old shibboleths are no longer something to blush over and keep in the closet.
Take anti-Semitism, for example. Never mind the old Klan-Christian-Henry Ford hardcore variety of Jew-hatred — it hasn’t been that long since Nixon raved on the White House tapes about the Jews being after him, Jim Baker said “fuck the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway,” and Reagan laid a wreath on the graves of Nazi flyboys at Bitburg. But as they had with the Catholics, conservatives eventually made amends with the Chosen People, partly because the optics were killing them and partly for that sweet Armageddon launch-pad in Israel.
Then came Kanye. After years of Kanye West’s promotion as the glamorous face of black MAGA conservatism, the guy decides it’s time to rave about the Jews (without someone covering for him, anyway). And while some conservatives eventually stopped going homina homina homina long enough to denounce him, others have been quiet or bothsiderish about it, and some of the lumpen have been downright enthusiastic.
Many of West’s conservative defenders take the tone of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who said West was being persecuted for “his independent thinking, & for having opposing thoughts from the norm of Hollywood… The media will steamroll anyone if they do not kowtow to their way of thinking… According to [the left], you’re not thinking correctly if you don’t completely agree with them.”
Such justifications reek of the persecution mania that has become a major part of modern conservative discourse — the insistence that, rather than giving offense with their words and actions, conservatives are actually the ones being offended by all the people telling them to stop. But it’s something to see it employed in defense of an out-and-out anti-Semite in 2022. It’s not like Reagan trying to look agonized when Elie Wiesel told him not to go to Bitburg. Indeed, it’s as if Reagan had told Wiesel that he had a lot of nerve trying to rain on his wreath-laying parade.
Contemplating this, I thought about today’s conservatism and how some bothsiders and moldy figs sigh over how much it’s allegedly changed. But I think it’s not so much changed, at least in the sense of forward development, as gone retro. It’s like all the old-time rightwing equities have been dusted off (and, in some cases, given modern cosmetic changes) and sent back back into service.
You may recall when I compared the pedo-hunting rants of QAnon to Anita Bryant’s old “Save Our Children From Homosexuality” campaign. Bryant’s campaign affected interest in the welfare of children as a way to persecute gay people. Now QAnon-infected conservatives are now similarly passing anti-gay laws — and taking the Bryant method further by not only trying to ban gay (and trans) expression in several states but also harassing drag show attendees and non-binary families on the excuse that they’re protecting the tykes from “groomers.” We’re getting real close to an old-fashioned Pink Scare situation.
We can take the analogy further. What is the anti-vaxxer madness that’s now closely associated with the right but a new version of the anti-fluoridation madness of the 50s and 60s? True, the new version is deadlier than the old but, as with the weaponry conservatives like to carry around with them, everything with these guys just gets more deadly. (And I will remind you that the federal mandate and delivery of polio vaccine in the 50s was resisted by Republicans on states-rights grounds.)
Add that to the fresh revival of prejudices that most of us thought had been dealt with long ago, and the modern right looks a lot like the John Birch Society, but with Twitter and a whole lot more highly-placed adherents.
And as for that Douthat column, I have not the patience to get into all the ways that it sucks, but the main way it sucks is in his assertion that current rightwing conspiracy theories represent the right adopting “paranoias of the left.” The right doesn’t need to import paranoia — as we can see by the gusher than ensues as they tap their strategic reserves.