Ultimate right-wing transgression: The mockery of politics as a preposterous joke

Ultimate right-wing transgression: The mockery of politics as a preposterous joke
Image via Gage Skidmore.

Inscribed on a medieval poorhouse, from Laurie Lee in I Can’t Stay Long: “Do not mock. No one knows his fate.” Conscious humanism appreciates life as a complex, unpredictable dynamic that elevates compassion to fellow earthlings because otherwise life is a jungle reduced to crude winners and losers. Predatory hustlers do the opposite, mocking reality as a zero-sum game riven with lying intrigues, a world of masters and victims where anything goes.

When minority, right-wing cynics mock politics as a ridiculous joke, they not only explode evidence-driven truth but use propaganda and threats to gain maximum control over maximum numbers. Fascists mock politics they can’t otherwise manipulate, defy or domineer (like fair elections or playing by the rules). Desperation reeks when election losers betray the Constitution.

For centuries great artists envision reality as a serious game in which conscious beings choose to play varied roles. Recall Shakespeare’s quotable As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Even with marginal free will, we all assume diverse, even contradictory roles – the definition of personality. Questioning free will, modern absurdist thought posits that choice may be an illusion, pressing us to accept random or chance roles (comic, tragic, absurd, whatever) because the world makes no ultimate sense. Thus film noir, the vagaries of war, accidents and disease speak to our destiny as playthings of larger, inscrutable forces.

But acknowledging life as a complex game hardly trivializes moral choices or the impacts that the collective culture has on individual existence: one doesn’t need absolutes like god or eternal life to inform a humanistic center. Parents gave us life not to squander opportunities but to explore how each of us joins in the enterprise we call reality. Sneering [Trumpian] mockery at public decision-making, as in blithely exiling our Constitution because it won’t let him steal a lost election, jeopardizes collective freedom, if not confidence that basic systems work.

The Big Lie, the Big Joke

Herein we have the worst rightwing crime, captured brilliantly by Carlos Lozada’s NY Times essay,The Inside Joke That Became Trump’s Big Lie:

Donald Trump’s so-called big lie is not big because of its brazen dishonesty … or ambition — to delegitimize a presidency, disenfranchise millions of voters, or clap back against reality. No, the lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election has grown so powerful because it is yoked to an older deception, without which it could not survive: the idea that American politics is, in essence, a joke, and that it can be treated as such without consequence.

The big lie depends on the big joke. . . As [Dana] Milbank puts it, 'once you’ve unhitched yourself from the truth wagon, there’s no limit to the places you can visit.' Thus the inevitable, devastating outcome wherein “political debate has become so degraded that it includes every kind of offense, be it anonymous officials humoring the former president, QAnon conspiracists exalting him or frenzied die-hards perpetrating violence on his behalf. Together, the big joke and the big lie have turned the nation’s political life into a dark comedy, one staged for the benefit of aggrieved supporters who, imagining that the performance is real and acting on that belief, become its only punchline.'

Thus comes the ultimate debunking by which authoritarian manias turn everything into a snarling joke, driven by the hellish vision that anything goes in the service of their brutal hegemony. This actually mocks absurdist logic and humanistic values, a default to might is right power-mongering. Is not the ultimate arrogance the presumption of elevating one, unelected group’s power (and violence) over other citizens with equal rights – the multitude of common values be damned. As Trump’s politics of name-calling, trivialization and destruction exposes, only winning and control counts, favoring the winners at the expense of all unfair, manipulative, “traitorous” losers (often also called elected winners). Here’s the ultimate bad joke, replacing the maximum good for the maximum number with the maximum good for the minimum minority numbers.

Destruction of the status quo, along with how progress and justice are measured, is the first corruption, then the replacement of legitimate leaders with self-serving autocrats who wield the ultimate government weapon: force and violence. If you trivialize the rights of the majority, then the deluded, righteous few try to enforce their will on all, and with such appealingly simple outcomes. When debunking consensual truth, fascist power-mongers replace “reality” with their rigged version of elections, marking the end of democratic self-rule if successful. There is no other option.

Absolutism justifies violence

If politics is a bad joke, then everything is open to manipulation. Everything becomes a feeding frenzy where “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell, Animal Farm) or “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (Orwell, 1984). Speaking to contradiction, Orwell reveals how Trumpers can forever whine about being ultimate patsies, sorry victims of the evil, deep state, but simultaneously the only justified champions capable of making us great again. Ironies abound. “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” (1984). Finally, Orwell fully anticipated the MAGA way: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Behind endless manipulations lies the conviction that the legitimacy of power and control depends on rule by the “right people.” When a fanatical group commandeers “truth,” that turns rational, skeptical dissent into treason, fed by its endless fake news. Losing = rigged. When politics becomes the will to minority power, then the electoral core of democracy – the sovereignty of the many – must be debunked. There is no other option. Core to white supremacy, evangelical absolutism and militants loaded with firepower is that only the ordained chosen deserve to rule and have full legal and voting rights. The destruction of democracy opens the door for “something better” to magically take over.

Paradise, the gift of the “best rulers”

Like other fascist deviancies, right-wing extremism offers the ultimate in simplicity: let the best people run the show, making all others illegitimate, even lawless, dangerous, and traitors to the “sacred cause.” As Orwell described and predicted, fascism is perfectly consistent: true law and order, thus peace and stability, reign when only when one, non-debatable vision gains total control.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunchexplains, ruthlessRepublican leaders won’t condemn Herschel Walker for his hypocrisy on abortion, endless lies and subterfuge, even serial allegations of domestic violence. He’s another Trump recast as a black ex-jock, with a fake fundamentalist overlay. If secular, democratic politics is a cosmic joke, then the only substitute must be regressive, calculated Biblical literalism. After all, the fundamentalist Bible cannot be a joke, inscribed by the omnipotent sky god. Extremists can call democracy a joke and lost elections fraudulent but never dare call the only true religion a joke. Heresy, then witch burning follows.

By this perverse logic, only good, rightwing, right-thinking Christians can decide what matters and what’s worth mocking. With absolute certainty, they justify the scariest, violent insurgency (Jan 6) as the first stage in righting the world. All dissenters and non-believers again, by definition, must be scheming losers who hate America and suffer delusions of grandeur (no small irony here).

Finally, mockers of democratic politics must be contemptuous of testable knowledge or evidence or learning from history, representing nothing but inconvenient interference. Such deviants have no other options to feel important. While the lives and realities of normal doubters are mere jokes, their zealous, terrified existence is deadly serious. Lying is then justified as the only option to unearth "the real truth" (read: their woeful suffering]. And so we come to today, "Praise the lord and pass the ammunition: do not retreat, only reload: those foes are enemies out to get us."

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