This is the fourth in a multi-part series, of indefinite length and schedule, examining the building of Trump’s Wall, a metaphorical wall between ideology and reality. Parts One, Two, and Three can be read here, here, and here.
Last time, I wrote about xenophobia and religious intolerance, and how they have fostered a sense of isolation and isolationism. This time, I will be discussing what I have taken to calling “moralism;” quotes intended. I use the quotes around the word because the morality that is espoused by “moralism” is not really all that moral. Indeed, it is less moral and more social intolerance under the guise of some warped sense of moral outrage. I believe that this “moralism” has its roots in a hazy nostalgia for a bygone era that never really existed and a lazy bigotry, where the targets of such hate are despised not for any one thing or ideology, but just due to their difference, the sense of being an other.
With some forms of bigotry, indeed many of them, there is a sort of diseased and twisted logic behind the curtain. The white supremacist, for instance, believes that people of color are inferior to them, and they back this up with some sort of misreading of history and/or science. They might look at graduation rates in an impoverished inner city and, rather than investigating further into the funding and operation of the school system or the lack of economic advancement opportunities, conclude that people of color are by and large naturally disposed to being less intelligent. They may look at crime rates and, again, failing to search for social and systemic causes, conclude that African-Americans are inherently violent.
The more scientistic forms of bigotry, that is a method or system of belief that claims to be rooted in the scientific method though in reality accepts any reasons – nonsensical they may be – to justify their hateful conclusions, may also look at other marginalized groups and, sensing a pattern of outcome, conclude that the individuals and the groups are the culprits of their own plight. “Muslims,” they may say, “are violent because their religion teaches them to be,” ignoring that the Bible also teaches violence against nonbelievers. Without a hint of irony though, they may also point to the Bible to justify their own violence towards the LGBTQ community. They may also make claims relating to mental disease, AIDS and other STDs, or simple perversion.
The lazy bigot, on the other hand, does not put that much thought into justifying their beliefs about their own supremacy. They may not actively hate and aggressively pursue violence against a gay couple, but they dislike them because they are “icky.” They might not really believe that the Koran is anti-western propaganda, but they are afraid of a Muslim in an airport because of things they’ve heard. They may not think that whites are racially superior to blacks, but they will still cross the street just in case so as to avoid a mugging.
No form of bigotry should be excused, and indeed all of them are incompatible with the western ideal of equality, but lazy bigotry is perhaps the worst. It is not driven by any one worldview or another, any one ideology, but only by something between fear and terror, without the confidence and assertiveness to at least pursue its own justification. The active or aggressive bigot may seek to cause or even actually perform an act of violence, the lazy bigot will merely be a bystander who does not intervene because they feel it just isn’t their place to. “Besides,” they may comfort themselves, “I don’t really know if there is an injustice taking place here or not.” The lazy bigot may be the most selfish of all, acting not out of a warped sense of preservation for their race/faith/sexuality in the aggregate, but failing to act only out of the desire for preservation of their comfort.
The lazy bigot may look at society’s woes of today and conclude that in their day there were no such woes. Indeed, they may not only blame the woes of today on the groups that are mildly offensive to them, but may blame the social progress of those groups for these woes. In their day, they may muse, there weren’t all these problems with police, or there weren’t these kinds of issues in the workplace, and so forth. This where the hazy nostalgia for a bygone era that never really existed comes in to play.
It’s no secret that many modern conservatives wish to make America great again, as if at some indeterminate point in time America was truly great, and it no longer is. The central ideal of modern conservatism is to take America back to something in the past. Even the phrase, “taking our country back,” has been part of the rhetoric since at least the 2012 election. To the modern American conservative, something happened in the last 8 years that has tainted and eroded America’s greatness. I’ll give you three guesses as to what that something is, but the point remains that to the modern American conservative, America has ceased to be great and has become a country with problems.
These problems include distrust of authority, they include groups of marginalized people seeking and aggressively asserting that they have rights and demanding opportunities, there is the question of normalization of things that make them uncomfortable, and so on. To the modern American conservative, America has lost its way and it is up to them to restore America to its greatness, long abandoned by the liberals who have taken hold.
But, what does that really mean? Ask any one of them and you will get a different answer than another. Yet, they are all united in the sense that our country has drifted away from its ideals and from its moral center. A common trope is that America used to be a military superpower. It was an economic powerhouse. America fought to spread democracy and freedom, equality for all. There was a thriving, patriotic middle class that was able to climb the social ladder and leave the world a better place than they found it. Men were men, women were women, and everyone got along and knew their role in society. Neighborhoods were calm and homes were idyllic. On any given Sunday in Pleasant Valley charcoal was burning everywhere. But, was America ever really like that?
This nostalgia for days gone by is mostly false, a distorted image imprinted on the minds of aging Baby Boomers as they reminisce about their childhoods when they were largely ignorant, as are most children, to the realities of the world. The United States has been, almost since the beginning, a study in dialectics. There has always been trouble and strife. There has always been conflict. There has always been a class seeking to have their rights acknowledged while another class sits atop them. The revolution was fought over it. The Civil War was fought over it. The Civil Rights Movement was fought over it. And the beat goes on.
For this group, maybe the troubles started during the Civil Rights era. Maybe they started during the anti-war protests. Maybe they started during the sexual revolution. Maybe they started during the Watergate era. Maybe they started in response to the government’s mishandling of the AIDS epidemic. Maybe they started during the Pride era. Maybe they started during Women’s liberation. Maybe they started here, or there. For this group, it does not really matter when or where the problems started. For them, the problems that they have to face and see are what have tarnished their shining city on the hill. For them, the reality of today is not morning in America, but mourning for America.
Their America was once viewed through rose-colored glasses. Once they grew up and their innocence was lost, they no longer looked at the world as if it was waiting to be grabbed by the short hairs. They realized that the world had them by the very same. So they want to return to that past. That, in itself, is not unsympathetic. But the problem lies in the fact that what they wish to return to never really existed, and in many cases it was just as problematic, if not more so, than it is today. So they crow about the decline and decay.
Looking around and seeing no easy target for their plight in sight, they have decided that it must be the fault of the other, those other people. “They are the ones that have brought this upon us.” Through the haze of nostalgia, a lazy bigotry makes sense. I didn’t do anything wrong, it must be them. And this is what leads us to “moralism.”
This “moralism” is a viewpoint that America has abandoned God, or our ideals; perhaps both. “Moralism” teaches that it isn’t right, it is an affront to the morals of decency that homosexuality is openly discussed and embraced. It is against the social order that “uppity blacks” have moved into industries once dominated by whites, including politics. Acceptance of, even support for, alternative viewpoints and differing religions has caused the moral decay of America, and it is their intention to stop the loss of these morals. These “moralistic” viewpoints are pushed by characters such as the Falwells, or the Evangelicals. The Religious Right, long having abandoned the teachings of their Christ, push for the oppression, suppression, and repression of any and all things that make their followers uncomfortable, and take power away from their leadership.
To put it more simply, the push for “moralism” is not about morals of right and wrong, it is not about equality versus oppression, it is a desire to return a safety and comfort that never really existed without the oppression of some other group. It has nothing to do with the ideals of the west, or even the written scripture of this God or that God. It is about control and a returning to a time when marginalized people knew their station. But equality, like freedom, is a contagion. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it won’t go back in quietly. And this is the point of “moralism.” To force a return to a time when people, any people, accepted and acquiesced that they were not worthy of the same basic respect that those at the top relish.
This is what the modern American conservative has been fighting for; a return to the days, that never really existed, where everyone was happy to be a rung on a ladder, a passing facade on the totem pole. When conservatives push their “moralism,” know that what they are pushing is subservience. They have taken a desire for simplicity and used it to push the idea that your troubles are the result of a moral decay predicated by others; others who, incidentally only want to share in the promise made to us all, but have become the scapegoat for why you may have never received the promise due.
Next time I will discuss how isolation, isolationism, and “moralism” have fostered an acceptance for authoritarianism in America.