These are some of the things that keep American conservatives awake at night.
Modern American conservatism is based on an almost endless series of grievances. Author Thomas Frank coined a term for it: the conservative “plenty-plaint” — a long and ever-evolving list of personal and cultural gripes dressed up as an ideology.
But there’s also fear! And while it spans the breadth of the movement, this is the year of the Tea Party revolt, when the grassroots right, disgusted with the idea of semi-affordable health-care and tepid financial reforms is rebelling against even its own establishment. And the divide between the grassroots base and its leadership extends to the very fears that animate them. As we’ll see, the conservative movement’s business-attired hacks and the hard-Right tea Party types waving misspelled signs out in the streets have some very different causes for alarm.
So, here are ten of the most interesting things that absolutely terrify Wingnuttia. First, a few terrors of the real hard-core Right. For the Tea Partier, the midterm GOP primary voter, it’s not just the anxiety over social change that typifies more traditional conservatism. A broad chunk of the GOP base today is animated by wildly unrealistic terrors — monsters stalking them as the sun sets, perhaps hovering just beyond their peripheral vision.
1. Government Concentration Camps
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who’s been facing uphill prospects for re-election in Nevada, is breathing a sigh of relief that his newly nominated Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, isn’t a typical civil libertarian. According to Talking Points Memo, Angle endorses the views of (and may be a member of) the “Oath Keepers.” It’s a fast-rising right-wing group “whose membership of uniformed soldiers and police take an oath to refuse orders they see as unconstitutional — including enforcement of gun laws, violations of states’ sovereignty, and ‘any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps,'” according to TPM.
Fear of Obama’s Kenyan shock troops rounding up good conservatives and throwing them into Thunderdome-esque detention centers is nothing new on the Right. For years, conspiracy theories about “FEMA camps” have been percolating among the more feverish true believers. At TrueSlant, Matthew Fleischer wrote about a friend discovering that one of her co-worker’s believed there to be an imminent threat:
FEMA was building camps to round up and annihilate Christians. The roundup would start soon, but it would move slowly and quietly. Whole families would disappear and not be heard from again, but it would be made to look like they simply moved out of town. Christian children, her children, would be gassed and put into plastic coffins. Two of the woman’s friends had already moved out of the country. Others were following soon. She intended to join them as soon as she could save up enough money. But finances were tight and it might be too late.
The coming Obama Reich will naturally be justified by his own version of burning down the Reichstag — the Brownshirts will blame say they’re responding to Right-wing terrorism. In 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning of violence from Right-wing extremists, it caused near-apoplexy among the brethren. Talkradio host Roger Hedgecock summed up the danger like this: “So, if you disagree with Obama on amnesty for illegals or stand up for the Second Amendment, you are branded a ‘rightwing extremist’ by the Department of Homeland Security and become the subject of scrutiny by some 850,000 local and state law enforcement personnel.” All of this led one commenter to observe, “At least we know now who all those FEMA camps are for.”
Oh, the report was commissioned during the final years of the Bush administration — Homeland Security just end up releasing it under Obama.
If you pay attention to the Right, you might think there are large Islamic armies occupying a few majority-Christian countries these days instead of the other way around. If their rhetoric didn’t justify real-world violence, one could say conservatives have become entertainingly unhinged when it comes to Islam. Here’s a blurb for Mark Steyn’s ominous-sounding book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It:
Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a muezzin. Europeans already are. And Liberals will still tell you that “diversity is our strength”—while Talibanic enforcers cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops, the Supreme Court decides Sharia law doesn’t violate the “Separation of Church and State,” and the Hollywood Left decides to give up on Gay Rights in favor of the much safer charms of Polygamy. If you think this can’t happen, you haven’t been paying…
Hey, it could happen! Bloggers have uncovered General David Petraeus embracing “the jihadist rhetoric of Islamic anti-Semitism,” a nefarious plot by the Obama administration to transmit Islamic messages at an international nuclear summit, a similar plan by Food Network star Rachael Rae in cahoots with Dunkin Donuts and a plot by MasterCard to finance Islamic terrorism through those credit card fees. Perhaps most alarming, however, was a sinister scheme by devious Muslims to infiltrate the highest levels of government by applying for low-level internships in Capitol Hill offices. Only the tireless diligence of brave far-Right lawmakers like Reps. Sue Myrick (R-NC), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Paul Broun (R-GA) kept them from achieving their goals.
3. They’re Coming to Take Your Guns
During the 1990s, the Democratic Party came to the conclusion that gun control was a losing issue at the national level. (Not that they’d ever tried to ban guns, of course — gun control advocates had only sought to further limit the types of arms being sold, but mostly they pushed for background checks and stricter licensing requirements.) But the Right — and especially the NRA, which needs to raise money — never got the memo. With the election of a Kenyan Candidate, things have become decidedly more feverish. As Media Matters noted,
Since President Obama’s election, several conservative media figures have warned their audiences that Obama is planning to, in the words of Glenn Beck, “slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun” or have suggested that a government effort to ban guns is likely.
There’s also the UN “gun ban treaty” to worry about (it’s actually a proposed treaty governing the international transfer of arms, and specifically states that it isn’t applicable to domestic law, but, you know, still kind of spooky).
This irrational fear is cause for a certain amount of rational fear among others. There have been at least two incidents of (no doubt already unhinged) people who took this threat so seriously they gunned down police officers in cold-blooded attacks.
4. Article 3 of the United States Constitution
Remember those Oath Keepers? They say they’ll honor their pledge to uphold the United States’ Constitution by defending against federal encroachment on states’ rights. Like a lot of Right-wingers these days, they believe they’re doing the Lord’s work based on the 10th Amendment, which says that powers not expressly granted to the feds remain in the hands of the states.
Ah, but there’s a conundrum! It’s Article 3, which gives the Supreme Court the power to say whether a law oversteps the powers designated to the Federal Government. Believe it or not, the Founders never intended for the most reactionary law enforcement personnel in the country to decide disputes between the states and the central government, so they created a court to do that job. It’s one of the enumerated powers in the Constitution!
5. Plotting Global Elites
Somewhat lost in the brouhaha over Kentucky senate candidate Rand Paul’s views of the Civil Rights Act was his worry over the coming of the “Amero,” the official currency of the absolutely terrifying North American Union to come.
It’s an increasingly popular conspiracy theory about a group of shadowy and mostly nameless international “elites” who are planning to “replace the United States” — in the words of Jerome Corsi, a key figure in the SwiftBoat Veterans for Truth project and a leading NAU conspiracist — with a transnational government. The theory holds that the borders between Mexico, Canada and the United States are in the process of being erased, covertly, by a group of “globalists” whose ultimate goal is to replace national governments in D.C., Ottawa and Mexico City with a single trinational state ruled by a bloated EU-style bureaucracy.
The North American Union story is an offspring of the John Birch Society Right, with its simmering xenophobia and paranoia. It’s terrifying, but fortunately it’s also completely baseless.
It should go without saying that the Tea Partiers are also a bit apprehensive about the conservative establishment-types because the latter are elitists who live in high-rent cities along the coasts. Much of their alarm was of course stoked by those slick political operatives with partisan ambitions in mind. But once stirred to fear, a group of terrified people can be tough to control. The political hacks find the Tea Partiers useful, but no doubt also look upon them with some trepidation because they’re crazy and might hurt someone. That, cobined with a changing electorate, causes conservative leaders — ostensibly sensible people — an entirely different set of anxieties. Their fear can be summed up as: Oh My God, We Won’t Be Able to Win a Race for Dog-Catcher Outside the Deep South!
6. The Decline of Married White Christians
This one worries the operative class: the decline of married white people who identify as “Christians.” The GOP relies on them — they represent the party’s most loyal demographic.
To be clear, there are a lot of white people, a lot of married people, and a lot of people who say they’re Christians. But the share of American voters who are white and married and identify as Christians has been in a long and steep decline, and by every estimate will continue to fall.
That tidbit comes from an analysis by Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz. As he put it, “In American politics today, whether you are a married white Christian is a much stronger predictor of your political preferences than your gender or your class — the two demographic characteristics that dominate much of the debate” among the pundits. These two bone-chilling graphics reveal the trend:
That’s the base, and it’s shrinking fast:
7. The Graying of the Culture Warriors
Because the plenty-plaint is so flexible, you can rest assured that tomorrow’s conservatives will never run out of wedge social issues. Nonetheless, some of the most popular aren’t being embraced by the kids these days, and that’s cause for alarm among those trying to win some elections.
An analysis by Columbia University statisticians found a “generation-gap” on support for same-sex marriage that they called “huge.” According to the nerds, “If policy were set by state-by-state majorities of those 65 or older, none would allow same-sex marriage. If policy were set by those under 30, only 12 states would not allow-same-sex marriage.”
According to the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project, “About two-thirds of people 65 and older said religion is very important to them, compared with just more than half of those 30 to 49 and 44 percent of people 18 to 29.”
Even the rural-urban divide is becoming narrower, at least in terms of lifestyle. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the number of Americans who hunt has dropped seven percent over the past decade, and NPR notes that “fewer young people, in particular” are taking up the sport.
The generation gap cuts across a range of social issues — including interracial marriage and abortion. “Around the notion of morality and work ethic, the differences in point of view are pretty much felt across the board,” Pew’s Paul Taylor told the Associated Press. He said the gap has never been greater.
8. White Minority Status
Many people believe that in 2050, if birth and immigration rates do what experts expect them to, white folk will become a minority in the United States. This caused the so-totally-not-racist-and-how-dare-you-even-suggest-as-much Pat Buchanan a shiver of fear, tinged with a hint of nostalgia:
In 1960, when JFK defeated Nixon, America was a nation of 160 million, 90 percent white and 10 percent black, with a few million Hispanics and Asians sprinkled among us.
We were one nation, one people. We worshipped the same God, spoke the same English language, studied American history and English literature, honored the same heroes, read the same books, watched the same TV shows, went to the same movies …
That never happened in reality, of course.
But … that America is now gone forever…. In 2050, there will be three times as many people living here as in 1960 – 420 million. White Americans will be a minority, 49 percent, and falling… By countries of origin, America will be a Third World nation.
Oh, cry for the European Americans! Or don’t — Pat’s numbers don’t include white people of “Hispanic heritage.” When you factor those white folks in, 74 percent of the population will remain pasty in 2050, down just six points from today.
9. And the Browning of America
Among the political class a more reasonable fear is that the base’s boiling rhetoric over immigration will permanently alienate Latinos and Asian Americans, two fast-growing voting blocs that are heavily concentrated in a handful of key swing states. Rather than shaking over the prospect of a white demographic minority like Buchanan, they’re afraid the venom coming from Republicans like Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and JD Hayworth (R-AZ) will saddle them with a structural inability to win national elections for a generation. As former Republican House majority leader Dick Armey, the chairman of the corporate-funded front-group Freedomworks and a key organizer of the angry and ostensibly “grass-roots” Tea Parties, put it, “Who in the Republican Party was the genius that said that now that we have identified the fastest-growing voting demographic in America, let’s go out and alienate them?”
Here’s another one that scares the Right-wing coastal elitists who in fact run the conservative movement, the operatives.
Most people understand that the Right’s corporate patrons don’t care for organized labor because it hurts the bottom line. But there’s another thing to fear: Union members are more likely to vote their economic interests than be blinded by culture war distractions.
In 2004, although George Bush won the votes of white working-class men by 25 percent over John Kerry, blue-collar white guys who belonged to unions broke for Kerry by 21 percent. Charles Noble, a political scientist at IC Long Beach, commented, “Clearly, union members had a different perspective on the election, most likely provided by the unions themselves, which poured millions into educating and mobilizing union households.” In 2008, John McCain beat Obama by 25 percent among all gun owners, but Obama won over union members who pack heat by a 12 percent margin. Guy Molyneux, a partner with Hart Research, which conducted exit polls for the AFL-CIO, told the New York Times that white male union members “supported Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain by a margin of 18 percentage points, while for all white men, exit polls found they backed Mr. McCain by a 16 percent margin.”
White working-class “Reagan Democrats” voting for the colored guy? The horror!
There you have it: it’s a scary world out there, and the Right represents a big, strong Daddy figure who can guide you through.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.