Wednesday, November 4, 2015


An old joke has it that the Lone Ranger and Tonto are pursuing a band of Indian horse thieves into a canyon.  They notice that other Indians are pursuing them and that still other Indians are on the tops of the canyon walls.  The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, “looks like we’re surrounded, Tonto.”  Tonto responds, “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?”

And so it is in modern America, with “the base” of the Republican Party—a phrase which can mean ignoble and low-class—showing the cultural and racial fears of a majority being dispossessed of predominant power in America by demographic developments.  Obama is the face of their projected fears of the “other,” women of ability entering into and playing increasingly prominent roles in most fields, the alternatively oriented in matters of gender, the variously non-white, the non-religious or downright secular or the non-Jewish, non-Christian believers (Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, among others), non-European-derived.  Republican attacks on women are the most obvious instance of fear of demographic change: tolerance of pay differentials, resistance to an increased minimum wage, attacks on reproductive rights, attacks on social assistance programs disproportionately serving women, and attacks on professions like K-12 teaching and nursing largely staffed by women.  Almost as obvious are efforts by Republican-controlled states to restrict the franchise by creating impediments to voting by minorities, the poor, the elderly, and the young in the name of undefined and unsupported claims of voter fraud.

The opposite of what it fears characterizes most of the base: white, middle-aged or older, lower-middle class, poorly educated, modestly skilled, fundamentalist in religion, and rural (Southern, Southern Extraction, Great Plains, Mountain West).  The people who have the greatest fear are those who have reached the age at which they realize that they have lost out in the race of life.  The only cohort of people in America whose mortality rate is increasing—drug overdose, alcoholism, and suicide—are precisely such males between the ages of 35 and 45 with no more than a high-school education who are having trouble finding or keeping a job, finding or keeping a woman, or winning fantasy football.  Even successful adults can share this fear of the other if they experienced the conditions of the fearful in their childhood experiences (Paula Deen is one example; Ben Carson is another).   

Hostility to “the other” is one expression of fear.  Denial or distortion of reality is another.  The fearful are afraid of facts because they are not their facts.  Theories of cosmology and evolution, though established as facts, the fearful reject as contrary to faith and the comfort which faith can give.  Climate change and abortion they reject as implying or implementing man’s power to assume powers over creation of the world and of life which powers they believe belong only to God.  Their big fear is that the modern world which “the other” embrace or represent is marginalizing God and all that gives meaning and stability and security to their lives.

It is no stretch to see that the recent emphasis on religion in politics is an attempt to subordinate the democracy of the people, including more and more of “the other,” and to protect that “old time religion” and the political, white male supremacist order which goes with it.  It is no surprise to see white policemen doing what they have always done, but now on camera for all to see, trying to enforce that supremacy.

Nor is it a stretch to see those fear-based, fact-free, fundamentalist-oriented political forces mainly in one large, but shrinking, political party trying to overturn democracy.  Even today, with its structures shaky but still intact, politicians serving the base do not serve the country; do not listen to the majority; and do not respect the customary means of arriving at majority positions on political issues.  Politicians serving a base angry at those who compromise mean only one thing: if they gain political power, they will resist compromise, will listen to no one with different views, will rule without the “consent of the governed” and necessarily increasingly coercively, by fraud or force.  They will impose their views even on a majority of the population which disagrees with them, and will do whatever it takes to retain power in the face of dissent—a Reichstag fire?  By submitting to the extremists in the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Party is becoming more authoritarian, more dangerous to democratic rights and values, and more repressive of dissent and diversity.

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