Politics There’s Something Happening Here
posted by March 3 at 10:57 AMon
Gay senior citizen beaten to death by an assailant shouting “faggot.” Largo, Florida, fires city manager for announcing his plan to undergo sex-change surgery. Gay man attacked and badly beaten in New Jersey—for wearing pink pants. Gay rights leader roughed up by cops at public in Largo—for handing out fliers denouncing discrimination. Two gay-owned stores close in Palm Springs—Palm Springs!—after owners and customers were targeted by threats and harassment.
And, of course, Washington, Hardaway, Coulter.
I don’t have thin skin, god knows—how could I after reading the mail that comes in to Savage Love for the last 15 years? But there’s something new and ugly in the air. The efforts of right-wing Christians and the true believers and/or useful idiots that run the GOP—hi there, Mary Cheney—to demonize gays and lesbians haven’t taken place in a vacuum. It seems to me that we may now be seeing the real-world consequences of the right’s efforts to characterize gay marriage—hell, gay existence—as an attack on straight marriage and families. Convince enough drooling idiots in the dominant group that the existence of another group represents some sort of existential assault and, predictable as pogroms, idiots will begin to lash out violently.
I’m reminded of a line in a New Yorker essay written after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. I can’t find the essay online anywhere, so I’m going to do a bad paraphrase here. (If anyone can find the actual quote, please send it my way.) For two decades right-wingers had encouraged their ever-terrified followers to fear and despise the federal government. It was a campaign that began with Ronald Reagan’s “10 Most Frightening Words in the English Language” joke (“I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help”) and ending two decades later with the NRA calling federal agents “jackbooted thugs” and Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy reminding his listeners that, since federal agents wear bullet-proof vests, it was a waste of time to shoot federal agents in the chest. “Head shots! Head shots!” Liddy said. “Kills the sons of bitches!” (Gee… could you imagine what would happen if someone on the left said something like that now?)
After the bombing in Oklahoma City, some Democrats and left-wing commentators had the temerity to suggest that maybe, just maybe, all this federal-government bashing and right-wing paranoia stoking may have played a role in the bombing. Right-wing commentators, of course, crapped their pants. How dare anyone suggest that the right’s reasoned, civilized critiques of federal overreach had in any way inspired Timothy McVeigh! Heavens!
A New Yorker writer pointed out that historians of the future, looking back on the bombing of the Murrah building, were unlikely to write anything like this:
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, prominent figures in the Republican Party encouraged a poisonous hatred of the of the federal government. In an unrelated development, someone blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
(Again, I’m paraphrasing badly here—if anyone can find the story, please send the link!)
And so here we are again. Prominent figures in the Republican Party are encouraging a poisonous hatred of gays and lesbians. And in what is surely a series of completely unrelated developments, old gay men are being beaten to death on their doorsteps, transsexuals are being fired, men in pink pants are being bashed, gay business are being harassed, and prominent right-wing commentators feel free to throw the word “faggot” at their political opponents.
So there’s something happening here. And the meaning—to say nothing of the consequences—are too abundantly clear.
UPDATE: Nathan was kind enough to scour his “Complete New Yorker” on DVD and find the essay I was looking for: “Violence as Style,” by Adam Gopnik. Here’s the bit I was trying to recall:
Fifty years from now historians are unlikely to write, “In the mid-nineties, politicians and talk-show radio hosts created an atmosphere of poisonous hatred against the national government. Also, in a completely unrelated development, somebody blew up the federal office building in Oklahoma City.”
I was close—pretty good recall of something I hadn’t read in almost a dozen years. It’s a great essay, and I wish I could link to the entire thing. Sadly, it’s not up on the New Yorker’s lame, slow, unhelpful website.
These lines from Gopnik’s essay bear repeating too…
The point, of course, isn’t that Limbaugh or Pat Robertson or G. Gordon Liddy caused the killing. It is that they seemed never to give a moment’s thought to the, as they addressed their audiences, to the consequences of stuffing so much flammable resentment into such tiny bottles. Conservatives are generally clearheaded about the connection between rhetoric and action when it comes to people who are not conservatives…. And when it comes to Leonard Jeffries or Louis Farrakhan today, it is not hard for George Will or Murdoch’s Post to insist, against the grain of liberal indulgence, that if you daily inject hatred into the bloodstream someone might get sick.
Or fired. Or bashed. Or killed.