The Big Binary

Which awful alternative is correct?

I want to run something by you.

I’ve been following rightwingers on the internet for a couple decades now, and by and large have found them to be either disingenuous or dumb. In fact my first Voice story on them assigned stupid-to-evil ratios to various prominent conservatives. It was amusing shorthand but it does stand for something.

I think that while people who are conservative may occasionally have true and good insights, these are outliers and their philosophy (if they cleave to it sufficiently to be a true conservative) generally leads them in the wrong direction, away from democratic values and good government, and toward — well, the sort of horrible mess we have now.

People with such a strong predilection for wrong choices in whatever area of life have their reasons just like the rest of us, and those reasons may be as subtle and varied as those of Barabbas, Hamlet, Lily Bart and other examples from literature. But for purposes of comprehending the conservative movement and the great mischief it has made in American life, and because I have a cruder mind than Shakespeare et alia, I often run my own, mostly satirical analysis on their preeminent propagandists.

I like to think that by my treatments some of these guys, like Jonah Goldberg and Rod Dreher, have been transmuted into literature or at least a few laughs. But when it comes to their bad ideas and the bad governance that results from them, be they ever so multifariously human, I assign their motivations binarily as either malevolent (that is, done because they have been paid off or have some deep-seated hatred of humanity) or dumb.

Goldberg and Dreher are dummies, for example, big fish in the wingnut welfare pond but too lacking in self-awareness to do much damage. (Though if either of them ever got any real power — that is, if any conservative bigwigs were willing to back him in a big way — he could become simultaneously stupid and evil, like Trump.) Tucker Carlson, on the other hand, is straight-up evil, someone who peddles dumb ideas not because he is dumb but because he knows there are rubes who’ll buy it, and if he flatters them they’ll cheer and that may increase his power, and if that happens he will not play the good sport and count his money and with one last laugh at the suckers jump out of the plane like D.B. Cooper, but will instead use his new power to work even more bullshit in order to make his rubes even dumber and thus more devoted to his bullshit, and so on until the bullshit itself becomes a major force in American politics.

So here’s what I've been wondering. Look at the present state of conservatism — not the individuals involved, but the movement as a whole. What have they been up to? They’ve been:

- Telling the country that black people are getting ooga-booga out of hand. They don’t usually put it that way (though sometimes they do, as in this crazy Daily Caller article claiming “Black Lives Matter Totally Shuts Down Nation’s Capital On Independence Day” — I was here, they’re full of shit) but when they bitch about the BLM protests, the subtext and sometimes not-so-subtext is that these people have nothing to complain about — certainly nothing that merits us white people being deprived of Gone With The Wind on one specific cable channel for a limited time! I doubt normal Americans, who’ve been getting a crash course via cell phone video on how badly black folks are treated by the cops and freelance honky enforcers, are going for that.

- Hugging statues. Like their Leader they’ve been telling the world how much the statues matter, because the statues represent concepts — you know, freedom, honor, American independence, white supremacy (oh okay — some limited freedom for black people, but no more than that). They explain these concepts in fucked-up ways, as with the Robert E. Lee encomium I made fun of yesterday at alicublog, which suggested that the pro-slavery side was actually nobler than the abolitionists because it was so dignified — that I can’t imagine the normies, who think of statues as things that pretty up parks (and some of which, they discover or notice every couple of days, celebrate murderous racists), will go for this iconomania.

- Telling people that the cresting wave of COVID-19 heading for us thanks to Trump’s reckless indifference is sort of like freedom, in that it is unstoppable and it might well kill you but if you survive you’ll be a hero and even more American than ever! Their own people believe this, but everyone else thinks it’s crazy, and it is.

I look at this and I can’t decide. It’s all incredibly stupid, sure enough; but it’s also deranged and shows a depraved disregard for not only the spiritual and moral but even the physical survival of our country.

So, in comments: Stupid or evil? Scale of 10 (e.g. 3 evil, 7 stupid) will do.