Why conservative ideology is based in the belief white people are the true victims in American society

Why conservative ideology is based in the belief white people are the true victims in American society
Jussie Smollett/Shutterstock
Jussie Smollett/Shutterstock

Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities has been called “the quintessential novel of the 80s” in satirizing the racial and class politics of New York City during the era, which saw the city severely divided after multiple incidents where white and black people had different perspectives about what was right and what was wrong. The novel, which depicts a clusterfuck of awful people using a car accident involving a wealthy, white bond trader and a young African-American in the Bronx to advance their various agendas, both hits upon ideas about white fears of being around black people and the exploitation of that racism for wealth and fame.

Bonfire also reiterates similar themes present in a lot of Wolfe’s work as a journalist and writer, mainly the idea of appearing concerned about an issue while really using it for personal gratification. Wolfe coined the term “radical chic” after composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia hosted a fundraiser for the Black Panthers in the Bernsteins’ Park Avenue apartment, implying the assorted group of rich, white liberals cared more about looking “fashionable” in their association with Black Panthers than actually doing something about the underlying causes which created the group. Wolfe, who passed away last year, became more vocal in these conservative sentiments as he got older, stating in 2004 he supported George W. Bush because of “resentment” against a liberal elite who want to impose their “East-Coast pretensions” on the rest of society.

Whether Wolfe’s writing or The Bonfire of the Vanities are worthy of the acclaim they’ve gotten over the years is a question I’ll leave for another time. But what I’ve found interesting is how the views surrounding the novel speak to the current mindset of conservatives and alt-right fascism about the impact of racism, progressive ideology, and objective truth. I’ve written in the past about how the most vocal Republican voters are presenting themselves as the true victims of American society.

The essential nature of the past 50 years of the conservative movement is predicated on re-purposing white people as the victims of liberal agendas who need to be saved by Jesus and freedom to be made great again. The reason manufacturing jobs have disappeared is not mismanagement or corporate greed, but “libtard” regulations which care more about unions and spotted owls than "working people." The problem with public schools or why one’s kid couldn’t get into a good college has nothing to do with shitty parenting or the subjective merits of the academic system, but Title IX taking Jr.’s football dreams away to give funds to little girls, and affirmative action and its “reverse-racism” against whites wrongly valuing diversity as a strength. And racism is bad, but liberals are just so “mean” for saying it.

All of these are rationalizations for why it’s okay to be an asshole and not give a shit. This leads to people claiming all the sides suck and are out to fuck everyone, so why should anyone care about anything? And it all becomes a big joke. Because, if there’s anything conservative trash excels at, it’s the ability to devalue people into concepts and things, even when their value is self-evident, because we can rationalize being terrible to “things” with little to no moral consequence.

This leads to some interesting observations about the current controversy surrounding actor/musician Jussie Smollet, and whether the alleged racist and homophobic attack against him by Trump supporters is actually a hoax.

At least at present, Smollet maintains his story. But as the scrutiny about Smollet’s story has increased, the number of cracks in his version of events has become bigger and bigger as unnamed sources and rumors have dominated the news. Conservative media has latched onto this incident as an example of “fake news,” reporters and activists jumping to conclusions because of a bias against everything Trump, and a reason why Republicans will not believe reports of Trump’s lies and abuses. Similar to how some conservatives interpret the meaning of Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities as being about a “palpable yearning among the liberal establishment for guilty white people they could put on trial” to answer for cultural sins, it is now a certainty within right-wing circles that Smollet’s allegations are not only not true, but evidence which discounts all allegations of this sort. Because, as we all know, truth and the facts have mattered so much to conservatives over the years.

Let’s accept as a given there’s something to be said in examining evidence before believing every story, and that if Smollet is lying his actions are both deeply repugnant and extremely damaging to other victims. Maybe this should give the media and blogs pause in drawing broad conclusions about what things mean until some facts are known and established, since it only hands ammunition to these pricks if the story turns out to have holes.

However, let’s also examine this hypocritical bullshit for what it’s worth.

As Doctor House said: “Everybody lies.” The extent and severity of those lies among individuals, and the context in which they’re told, distinguish them. Lies which waste resources that could be used for real crimes, make it harder for real victims to be believed, and done for someone's own personal aggrandizement should be sharply condemned and severely punished.

However, just because there are more than enough lies to go around, and too many horrible people telling them, doesn’t invalidate the concept of objective truth or mean the issues which surround them are imvalidated. It does not mean because one can point at mistakes, silly demagogues, and awful charlatans that reality becomes whatever one wants to believe it is and there are no real victims

Beyond this basic common sense there’s the fact this criticism and rationalizing might have more weight if it wasn’t coming from a group of lying hypocrites. The same people who claim to be the victims of bias and half-truths are the one who put their faith in a liar as their champion. And not only a simple liar: a liar who lies about everything every day, that they then lie to protect.


From Zack Beauchamp at Vox:

From their point of view … It reveals a culture where white men are acceptable targets of hate who deserve no sympathy and no due process, and where the left-wing mob wields tremendous power through its command of the public sphere.

That view connects to a broader assumption shared by many conservatives: that white Christian men are a persecuted minority in modern America.

To non-conservatives, this sounds absurd. White men are the country’s most powerful and privileged citizens. The party they dominate currently controls two and a half branches of government, and they sit in a disproportionate number of powerful seats in the private sector. But in this argument, conservatives follow a maxim generally attributed to the late provocateur Andrew Breitbart: “Politics is downstream from culture.” By this, Breitbart meant that the balance of power in day-to-day politics is determined, in the long run, by the cultural ideas that shape the way people approach politics.

With liberal elites largely in charge of the country’s entertainment and higher education, in the Breitbart-conservative view, that means they control the commanding heights in our society.

The concept of white men being the persecuted in America largely comes down to being told they’re wrong, or freaking out over nothing when they're told it's something by the right-wing outrage machine. And within the “commanding heights,” whether it be scientists, Hollywood, the media, or Democrats, calling stupid ideas stupid has somehow become “elitist” and evidence of bias. It’s one of the most bitter ironies that the people who bitch and moan about political correctness and wear shirts saying “fuck your feelings” are the ones whining about respect whenever a TV show or movie has a story which steps on their toes, or a science article actually advocates … you know, science which goes against one of their beliefs.

It’s as if we are trying to placate children who want people to hold their hands and play along while they wish really hard for unicorns to be real.

From Reeeves Wiedeman at New York Magazine:

After work one day in January 2007, Scott McConnell left his office at the magazine The American Conservative in Arlington, Virginia, and walked to a nearby Thai restaurant that was hosting a panel discussion about the Duke lacrosse scandal… McConnell and his magazine had largely ignored the scandal; identity politics weren’t top of mind for conservative media then, and most outlets weren’t especially interested in defending a group of rich jocks who had hired a stripper. But by January, the case was imploding. The accuser had changed her story more than half a dozen times, one of the players had a well-documented alibi, and DNA tests found no match with any member of the team, a fact the prosecutors initially hid from the defense. McConnell was reminded of The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe’s novel about 1980s New York in which an overzealous prosecutor, the media, and the city’s liberal elite rushed to condemn an innocent white man accused of killing a black man. “There was this palpable yearning among the liberal establishment for guilty white people they could put on trial,” McConnell said, of the lacrosse case.

McConnell and one of his editors, Michael Dougherty, went to the Thai restaurant panel hoping to find someone to write about the case. They knew most of the speakers — an economics professor, an editor at the WashingtonTimes, a men’s-rights blogger — but their talks were so boilerplate that neither McConnell nor Dougherty could recall much about them. The fourth speaker, however, was a Ph.D. candidate in Duke’s history department who delivered a blistering critique of the Duke faculty’s rush to prejudgment. “Scott and I both thought, Here’s a young guy, he presents himself well, and his talk was the most interesting of the night,” Dougherty said recently. “God, I hate to think that we were part of creating this.”

Richard Spencer, the fourth speaker, is now America’s most famous self-identified white nationalist. “In this funny chain of events, the Duke lacrosse case changed the course of my career,” Spencer told me recently. “My life would not have taken the direction it did absent the Duke lacrosse case.” The speech at the Thai restaurant — “Ironic, isn’t it?” he said — pushed him from an academic track toward a more activist one. McConnell commissioned Spencer to write a piece for The American Conservative about the case, and, by the end of the semester, Spencer had dropped out of school to work at the magazine full-time. A year later, he coined the term “alt-right.” … It not only launched Spencer’s career, but that of White House adviser Stephen Miller, too. On the morning of Spencer’s talk at the Thai restaurant, Miller — who was then a senior at Duke — published a column in the student newspaper titled “A Portrait of Radicalism,” just a few days after he appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show to chastise Duke’s faculty. Donald Trump didn’t have much to say about the scandal at the time; he hadn’t yet joined Twitter and was devoting his cable-news appearances to his simmering feud with Rosie O’Donnell. But Miller seemed interested in little else. He had become known to some at Duke as the “Miller Outrage Machine” for his willingness to take controversial stands in his biweekly “Miller Time” column, which he wrote for the campus newspaper as a way, he says, to “defend the idea of America.”

This sort of behavior is also present in conservative women. Recent research and ponderings attempting to identify why white women support Republicans and conservative policies more than their non-white sisterhood have largely explained the difference through gender roles and subservience to their partners. For example, during the recent hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Republican women (who are for the most part white) were the only demographic among which support for Kavanaugh increased as the process went along.

Why is that?

Republican women are “loyal to party” rather than caring about any criticisms about sexism, threats to women’s rights, or discrimination against females as a group. Taking all of this into account, conservative women seem to interpret criticisms of Republicans and conservative interests as a larger part of the believed victimization of (white) America.

For instance, in 2008, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin set the example of the strong Republican woman who could raise five children, maintain a professional career, and hold her own in the combative world of politics. She called herself a “hockey mom” and “Mama Grizzly” who would protect her cubs at any cost.

During the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Donald Trump provided a culturally acceptable “out” along these lines for conservative women who wanted to support the Republican judge but worried that doing so might be seen as a betrayal of female survivors of sexual assault.

Despite the fact that studies conducted in the past 12 years indicate that false reporting for sexual crimes is rare, Trump constructed an imaginary choice, urging Americans to protect their sons against “false accusations” by women. Pretending to be a wrongly accused son about to lose his job, he said, plaintively, “Mom, what do I do? What do I do?”

Republican women who wanted to support Kavanaugh could stand firm in their roles as mothers and, just like Palin’s “Mama Grizzly,” fiercely protect their cubs (sons), in this case against “false accusations.”

Now, whether these points explain Republican women’s behavior is a matter of debate. But the central problem with all of this is hypocrisy.

I can’t feel sorry for someone who thinks I'm their victimizer just because I ask them to treat people fairly. Why should I reach out to people who think I’m a demon because I’m a Democrat and I vote for people who have a (D) next to their name? The reason many of us feel antipathy to the point of outrage is because the other side is wrong. We know they’re wrong, and they piss on our feet and call us liars for saying it’s not rain. We know they’re wrong, and they enjoy the suffering their wrongness causes. And then they believe themselves to be victims? If it causes “libtard” tears, then it must be good for some of these nuts.

So ... sympathy for these sons of bitches for feeling persecuted? Never.

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