An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

August 5, 2010

The Teabagger Style in American Politics

Somewhere out there, for some reason (I think I can blame Thomas Frank for this one) I wound up googling up a copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Originally published in Harper’s Magazine circa 1964, it holds up pretty damn well. It’s like Richard Hofstadter was the Nostradamus of Wingnuts, except literally right. More right than he could have imagined, actually–he describes the proto-wingnuts of American history as decidedly fringe elements even within the right wing. Still, passages like this show a lot of insight:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

***

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.

Sound familiar? (I have a post brewing somewhere still from when I read What’s the Matter with Kansas? about the mileage the US right has gotten out of choosing impossible goals, and the damage that same tactic has done to the left.)

Really, though, it’s not exactly prescience. Hofstadter was describing the ideological ancestors of today’s paranoid conservatives–constantly, intensely afraid that some enormous but invisible conspiracy of foreigners and the US elite was deliberately…doing something UnAmerican. Sometimes it’s ill-defined, sometimes it’s defined in ridiculous, implausible detail. A lot of the ideas that were floating around in ’64–that the President is a secret capital-C Communist, that the income tax is some sort of socialist plot, that the US is being intentionally invaded by non-anglo Catholic immigrants who want to destroy Our Way of Life*–still have a solid, sometimes growing (or regrowing) following.

It’s a long article by intertube standards, but worth the read. Just replace 2 of every 3 references to ‘communists’ with ‘terrorists,’ and you could write your own AM radio show.

*if you’re feeling strong-stomached, google ‘Aztlán conspiracy’ and look at some of the wingnutty top hits.

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August 2, 2010

What Does an Illegal Immigrant Look Like?

The other day, I was out drinking with some friends, when some regrettable dude decided to hit on my friend Lauren. Between his fumbling attempts to tell her she must want to hear she looks younger than she is, being too drunk to realize she was brutally mocking him, and some crash-and-burn I’ll get to in a sec, it was bad. I have never seen anyone try so hard to impress another human, and come away looking so dramatically unfuckable. I’m surprised she didn’t brand ‘Douchebag’ into his forehead to keep other people from hooking up wit him. Seriously.

The nail in the coffin was when he decided to fill a lull in the conversation by asking what everyone thought of the then-new Arizona SB 1070. When faced with a unanimous angry face, dude perked up. ‘Y’know’ he said ‘I think it’s great.’ We were then treated to a looooong diatribe about how, since the law prohibits racial profiling, obviously the cops would never racially profile. Instead, they will just use their immigration-status-sensing superpowers to ‘just know what they [undocumented immigrants] look like.’

Now, a good chunk of my family is Scandinavian–my uncle, some cousins, and a few people of more convoluted relationship to me immigrated to the US from one of the more glacial, fjord-laden parts of the world. My uncle lives in a small Appalachian town where most of his friends don’t even try to pronounce his name correctly. He has a Sweedish Chef-meets-Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, wears black socks with birkenstocks, and greeted the rumors that Obama would socialize medicine with a smug ‘About time, ya?’ Dude is clearly not from around those parts.

But no one ever questions his right to be in the US.

People sometimes think my uncle is a tourist. They ask him how long he’s been in the US, how he likes it here, and so on. But they don’t think of him as an immigrant, his blue-eyed face isn’t the one people have in mind when they say we need a ‘solution’ for immigration. He’s just some guy who happens to be from somewhere else originally. I doubt it ever occurs to anyone that he could possibly be undocumented, even though the difference is a paperwork slip away. Strangers never harass him for his documents or ask what he’s doing here. When he gets a speeding ticket,  goes to the hospital, or waits outside while his wife goes to vote, his immigration status never comes up. No one ever questions his right to be in this country.

I told this whole rambling story to Mt Strikeout.  How I’m sure that whole side of my family could run every stoplight in Arizona without a single cop pulling them over and drawling ‘Y’all are awful sunburned to be from around here. You got your green cards?’ About how no one ever asks to see my uncles papers even though he’s so clearly an immigrant.

‘Sure,’ he said triumphantly, ‘But does he look like an illegal immigrant?’

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July 19, 2010

Mini-post: Anonymous Racists try to get Utah to do Their Vigilanty-ing for Them

I haven’t seen this much anywhere else, but this is fucking terrifying. An anonymous group of people in Utah sent out a list of the names, addresses, social security numbers, workplaces, phone numbers, children’s names and due dates (of pregnant women) they feel should be ‘immediately deported’ to Immigration, Enforcement and Customs (ICE) and media outlets. Their targets are 1,300 Latinos, who they claim are all undocumented. But unsurprisingly, that much isn’t even true–several of the people who have found out they were on the list have come forward to make it clear the group’s claims of careful data thieving are bullshit.

Colorlines magazine speculates that the information may have been stolen from (or rather, by people with access to) state health and/or employment agencies. They say Utah officials are investigating who might have stolen these people’s identity info, but ICE wouldn’t comment as to whether they intended to target the people on the list or not.

What. The. Fuck.

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