Disclaimer: The following memes were not altered in any way except to redact some personal and contact information.
It’s no secret that the right’s political extremism has intensified since Nov. 4, 2008. And thanks to social media, fringe messages are easier to find and disseminate than ever.
Too often, these messages are dismissed as A.M. talk-radio fanaticism, but in truth, they accomplish three main goals, each of which is designed to feed into the next goal, eventually creating a self-perpetuating cycle that encourages more extremism.
These are the goals:
- Demonize the opposition
- Turn public policy into a black and white fight between good and evil
- Provide cover for extreme political beliefs
Demonize the opposition
This is a real meme, found across several right-wing websites. It’s repulsive, but it illustrates the lengths the right will go to demonize people with different policy positions.
People who have different opinions aren’t just the opposition, they are terrorists.
Public policy is good vs. evil
If you believe “taxes are tyranny” there’s no need to have a substantive discussion on tax policy.
Forget about nuanced discussions over the social contract if it’s only helping societal leeches.
Just to clarify, this meme suggests the right to possess machine guns, claymore mines and grenades is protected by the Second Amendment. It’s a good bet a person who believes this cannot engage in a refined introspection of our nation’s gun laws.
It’s hard to imagine what substantive policy conversations you are capable of having when you believe a gun and a power tool provide more liberty and self-reliance than good governance.
Provides cover for more extremism
What do you get when public policy is grotesquely simplified and distilled into a fight between good and evil? You get somebody who believes the threat to our country justifies opinions like this:
Who would pine wistfully of an armed insurrection against our government? A lunatic? Good guess, but no. Nowadays the prevalence of extremist rhetoric provides cover for more extremism. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. It goes like this: if I believe people with different policy positions are evil, and their policy positions are designed to enslave Americans, then my extreme opinions aren’t extreme, they’re proportional.
This meme is a folksy approach to threatening the government with an armed insurrection. Of course, it doesn’t mention that the last large-scale armed insurrection resulted in the death of more than 600,000 Americans. It was called the Civil War.
Now the bad part
All of this right-wing nonsense may be disturbing, but none of it is particularly dangerous. We’ve always had political crazies. Just now they are a lot more visible thanks to social media.
Yet there is a real danger when politicians pander to extremists by echoing their extremism.
A good example of that occurred last month, when Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, talking about immigration, not-so-subtly mentioned an armed insurrection to Fox News’ Juan Williams.
Don’t think this was an accident or slip of the tongue. Labrador is a shrewd politician. He knew exactly what he was doing — pandering to the nut jobs in his base. The problem is by pandering to them, he’s also encouraging them. He’s reinforcing the notion that we’re one immigration reform away from the Civil War II.
Of course, that’s insane. The United States is one of the most stable, least-likely-to-fall-into-a-civil-war nations on earth. So what’s the harm? Who cares if a growing group of people believe a civil war will make this country into a conservative utopia?
The answer is simple: A forthcoming civil war is a delusion.
By suggesting that outlandish policy ideas, while marginalized now, will be rectified in the future by the threat of a civil war is the same as encouraging people to not participate in civil society at all. It’s the I’ll-take-my-ball-and-go-home approach to public policy that chooses conflict over compromise.
We’ve seen what it does in Washington, D.C., paralyzing Congress. And we’re starting to see what it will do in Idaho, as our state legislature has punted Medicaid expansion for the third year in a row while fumbling over the critical issues of transportation and education funding.
Extremists on the right are doing a terrible job at starting an armed insurrection, but they’re doing a great job grinding our government to a halt. And no, that will not inch us closer to a civil war.
It will only make us poorer and less educated.