What baffles me about the behavior of right wing activists over the past year is the neon irony. Since Barack Obama was elected, teaparty picketers, town hall disrupters and talk show blatherers have whipped up a frenzy of fear about what he and his are going to do. They are going to lead us into a Socialist state, or a Communist state, or a Fascist state or better an as yet unimagined synthesis—a Socialomucist hell of cataclysmic ruin.
Their rants are ironic, because everything they warn that he will be doing to us their own party heroes have been doing to us for the past thirty years. Obama’s Socialist state-run health plan won’t let us choose our own doctors or keep the ones we have chosen. Are they talking about the doctor they got to choose from the few pages in the printed guide supplied by their HMOs? Are they talking about the doctor you get to keep until your employer decides it will be cheaper for him to change their medical plan (See printed guide above)? Are the phantom death panels that might come to exist any more ruthless than the insurance companies that walked away from millions of dollars in rightful claims after Katrina by attributing the damage to insured homes as the result of the wind but not the rain in a hurricane (or visa versa depending on one’s coverage)? Can they seriously babble on about tax-and-spend Democrats when the most explosive growth in government history took place under Reagan and Bush Jr.? Is it anything but delusional to wet one’s pants at the potential loss of liberty under an Obama administration that followed one in which peoples’ phone calls were intercepted, their email read, and even their library books surveilled?
Were these peoples’ genetic codes aligned in a Boggle cube, or is there a more mainstream explanation for their lunacy? What kind of person acts like this? There is one—the battered child.
In the typical household defined by domestic abuse the following dynamics typically appear. While in the moment, the child hates the abuser and sympathizes with the abused, at a more subordinated level and over a longer term the child will begin to identify with the abuser. The abuser has an agenda and realizes it, even at the expense of the rest of the family. The abuser is clear and direct. The abuser means what he says and he follows it up with action—usually violent action. The child will at once fear the abuser and come to believe that such psychotic clarity of purpose is admirable and probably recreate it in his or her own household. The abused on the other hand morphs into an ineffectual, powerless failure. Sure the child will feel sorry for the abused at the time, but he or she will decide as time goes on that people who can’t defend themselves (and by extension their children) deserve the punishment they get. They even come to resent the abused more for their passivity than the abuser for the pain.
Such is the situation in which we find ourselves today. The Conservative is the abusive parent; the Liberal is the well-intended but capitulating victim. The mainstream American right-wingers have become abused children, identifying with the parent who beat them down and heaping scorn on the parent who tried to intervene on their behalf. Reagan took the middle class’s money and gave it to his rich poker buddies on the promise that someday they would give it back. He made the tax code fairer by taking away the average person’s second most important deduction—interest on credit cards—and by ramping up enforcement on baby sitters and waitresses. Instead of trickle down, they got trickled on. The Bush administration showed its strength by phonying up a war and its patriotism by committing treason in the act of outing a covert CIA agent in the cause of good PR. Both of them did deals with butchers and terrorists while berating the spouse who was soft on America’s enemies. Polite bowing to a foreign leader on that leader’s soil is insulting to America, but holding hands with the head of the state that brought us a good 75% of the 9-11 hijackers is diplomacy. Watching troops come home in coffins is a photo-op, but blowing out birthday candles while a city drowns is just good ol’ down home charm.
But hey, they let us keep our guns. Out of all of the amendments to the Constitution, the most vacuously symbolic, materially irrelevant and—let’s face it—phallic is the right to keep and bear arms. So guess which one of those rights is about the only one that hasn’t been trampled in the past thirty years? When a reporter asked one of the wing nuts that went to a town hall meeting with his pistol on hip if it was loaded, the guy answered, and “What kind of idiot would wear one that wasn’t?” Wow! You never have a mirror when you need one. To the battered child, of course, this makes perfect sense. It ain’t a matter of being right or wrong, it’s a matter of keeping Nancy-boy too frightened to ask which is which.
So what should we call American society at the end of the first decade of the new millennium? The answer is clear. America has become a nation of battered children. We’ve gone from golden age to smoldering rage. We’ve gone from a brilliant scientist who puts someone on the moon to an angry bus driver who only threatens to. Don’t hang on here waiting for the solution. There really isn’t one. As long as people continue to depend on rationalizing instead of rationality and to identify with the short term satisfaction of scapegoating the victim over trying to stop the abuse, no one not even as eloquent an orator as Barack Obama is going to reach them. The battered child would rather fight off the voice of reason and sedate himself with the ringing in his ears. Our country ‘tis of the cradled in misery, of thee we sing.