How We Got Here

There are no such things as liberals and conservatives.

Forgive the pedantry, but allow me to explain:

These terms, so often made concurrent with notions of Democratic or Republican politics, left or right leaning ideologies, are designed ethical paradigms instigated in the late 80s and early 90s as a smokescreen for morality.  In other words, a “conservative” movement in the early 90s developed in order to position Republican immorality (defined here as intolerance of Others, capitalistic racketeering, and an assault on the Middle Class) as political ideology.  In OTHER words, Republicans invented the “culture wars” so they could mask their immorality as political preference, as their own ethics.

Morality is the ability to understand right and wrong.  Ethics are, among other things, how a culture behaves to substantiate their concept of morality.  The Culture Wars are false-ethics masquerading as morality.  It is impossible to argue that subjugating women, minorities, non-heteronormative people, the poor, the differently abled, etc. is moral.  Republicans, therefore, could not substantiate their fear and hatred as moral code.  Born, then, from this paradox was the notion that they were “conserving” American values, while refusing to acknowledge such values were those of a hegemonic, privileged minority.  The Culture Wars were a deliberate attempt to call what is obviously moral, humanitarian, and equitable “liberal” so Republicans could activate their anti-moral, anti-humanitarian, and inequitable agenda as “conservative,” in order to keep the violent, inequitable, and ferocious America “great.”

According to Christopher Newfield, professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, “The culture wars had a simultaneous economic and racial agenda for those who waged them.  Culture warriors [republicans] needed the kind of arguments that, in this post-1960s world, would block not only racial equality, but also the economic majoritarianism that was likely to follow” (Unmaking the Public University 70).  Newfield suggests that the creation of enmity between “conservatives” and “liberals” is rooted in distracting the greater public from the nefarious republican disdain for anything that threatened their agency.  Newfield continues, “In the world of the culture wars, inequality is natural and equality the result of unnatural intervention” (172).  This is why “conservatives” can support Donald Trump and why they can ignore the pain of others without jeopardizing their own sense of tentative morality.

This is also why there is no such thing as conservative or liberal and I refuse to acknowledge anyone’s hiding behind these terms as moral salvation.  These are linguistic rhetorical tools to convince a public that what is right and good and moral are somehow political preferences.  But please do not make a mistake here: there is nothing political about morality.  Though right and wrong are often matters of perspective, one thing remains certain: ideologies, values, politics, laws, and elections that strip people of rights and hurt their bodies are not and cannot ever be called moral.

In Beyond the Culture Wars, pedagogue and professor Gerald Graff argues, “A combination of affluence and geography has enabled more fortunate Americans to avoid noticing unpleasant social conflicts by the simple device of moving away from them” (5).  When we are comfortable, we do not wish to be made uncomfortable by the suffering of others—this would displace our comfort—so we rationalize that they deserve the suffering or that forcing an archaic value system upon them would solve their suffering.

In the months following Donald Trump’s dubious election as President of the United States, I’ve thought often of patriotism.  Having traveled all over the world, in knowing amazing people all over the world, it has been difficult for me to remedy my love for the United States and my horror at its insidiousness.  (Let me acknowledge here that this has been the plight of many less-fortunate than me forever).  In my most recent short story, I wrote about this difficult conundrum: “It was difficult to understand the beauty and ugliness of life, the horror and majesty, as they struck simultaneously.”  But I consider myself a patriot.  I serve the students of this country every day and do so with deep pride and affection.  I love the urban meccas of the country, the sublime wild of the countryside.  I’m reminded of Julian Barnes’s line from Flaubert’s Parrot, “The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.”  I do not feel good about our future with Donald Trump as President.  But I will do what I can to show this country where it is broken, because you make a place better when you try to fix its wounds.  You love it when you try to cure it.

But don’t call me a liberal.  I’m not one.  I’m a human who believes humans are humans and that every human deserves to have their humanity recognized.  And don’t call yourself a conservative if you think that means you are just politically “right-leaning.”  Because what it really means, historically and actually, is that you condone the immoral oppression of other humans because it is convenient to your privilege.  It is better to examine our own stances as they may intersect with those of others than to harbor down, secluded in shielded ignorance.  It’s really easy to dismiss me, to dismiss this as “liberal” rhetoric, but believe me when I say what I want most is to put a big band-aid on this trench-scarred nation of ours, regardless of how faulty I know the adhesive to be.

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