I grew up, as an 80s child, inundated in rural gun culture. My father and grandfather both loaded their own ammunition, melting down lead and pouring it into steel molds. They packed their own powder into the brass shells and pressed it all together with a primer into a fully functioning piece of ammunition. I started shooting at the age of 6 and during that time until I grew up, unless it was a discussion of actual self defense, there was nothing violent about it. We shot at targets of paper that looked like targets. They didn’t look like Arabs or zombies or any of the other hateful nonsense available today. There was nothing military or tactical about it. It was a tradition that centered around hunting and knowledge. The gun was a tool and that’s absolutely all it was.
I went to gun shows with my father in the late 80s and early 90s. My father was a fan of craftsmanship, not power. A gun is ultimately a machine and he always had a reverence, as do I, for well made machines, for ingenuity.
During the 90s, the Clinton hate was on among Conservatives and many sellers and buyers at gun shows were Conservatives, but — and you have to understand this — it wasn’t universal. My father was a lifelong Democrat and his father was as well. This was before the WW2 generation had gotten so old that they were either in nursing homes or too feeble to engage in the activities they’d engaged in their youth or middle age. Those guys were mostly Democrats because they remembered FDR and WW2 and how they’d gotten it right and they were also tied closer to the land. They understood that things had function and purpose in a civilization. But the Boomers, they were varied and different. I saw all manner of Hillary hate at these shows and even then there was a sort of pseudo hobbyist survivalism present in some literature around the place but it wasn’t serious. It was pathetic, even comical.
Gun shows at the time centered around weapons for use and historical weapons. Gun shows were, in many respects, museums of conflicts past where the discussion of calibers and manufacturers was about a very tangible history of our nation. It wasn’t malevolent and the people there weren’t government rejectionists. It was about places, names, and events, things to do in the future out in the world.
Years later, around 1998, I had the luck, and it was luck, to travel to Raton, New Mexico, where the NRA has a big shooting center, and shoot and talk with ‘The Shootists’, a collection of professional gunmen and writers who specialized in six gun artistry.
They were amazingly fast and accurate and they were good writers. My father and I went and stayed with a Tennessee gunsmith who is a true master at his trade. He was a fiscal Conservative who was pro-choice, a temperate and thoughtful man. Most there seemed to be fairly moderate until my father and I volunteered to go into Raton, about 25 or 30 miles away, and buy groceries. A gentleman whose name currently escapes me volunteered to come with us. During that trip, he regaled us with discussions branching from the gold standard to a condemnation of the federal income tax (it was never legally passed, according to him), to a final declaration at the end of a brief discussion on the role of government. “What has the government ever done for me,” he asked. Bemused, my father and I looked around us, desert and mesa as far as the eye could see except for the four lane interstate we were driving on…built with money from the Federal Department of Transportation, funded by tax money, created by a government for the people and by the people.
Something had changed.
Now when I go to a gun show, which is rare, what I mostly see is an obsession with tactical weaponry on the part of people that never served their country in any way that in no way reflects the old gun culture that was about tradition, history, and practical use.
Now, it is about pretending to be a soldier or readying yourself for the coming whatever. Sure, there are still some things and people there that are interesting, but the overriding feeling I have now is one of cultural malignancy, the feeling that something important has died and that what remains is large children tending to the bones and acting at being ‘big men’.
RINO or Republican In Name Only, is the acronym that’s become popular among far Right conservatives since 2008. It’s intended as an insult. It’s a calling out, a declaration that the target is a hypocrite and a pretender. The intent of the term, like any disparaging term, is to build a wall around Them Vs. Us. And, like all disparaging terms, it’s packed with meaning and history. Certainly, the major change is that Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans, no longer believe government has a place in determining the course of a nation’s future.
It wasn’t always this way.
Conservatives throughout American history have believed that vision and government leadership was essential. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, George HW Bush, all these men believed in leadership by government, to varying degrees. They didn’t believe that America was simply an enormous company and that everyone should be left to their own profits to pursue what they may despite the odds. Why not? Well, as bluntly as I can put it, they believed in the idea of America as a civilization and as a culture. They believed that the American people, as a people, had value beyond what they can simply contribute to markets. And isn’t that the truth? Isn’t that a philosophical toe hold in the climb to determining the meaning of a life?
We don’t work because we love to do so. We work because work is required to live and thrive. Government and market systems exist, ideally, to serve a population, a civilization. Citizens aren’t automatons serving the great machine. A system of that kind has no value just as the people in it have no value to that system. Certainly, we are free men and women but we must be free men and women together, not split away, not cut off from one another. This used to be common knowledge among Conservatives.
No, what most Tea Party Conservatives, with who I’m sure the gentleman from above now affiliates himself, believe to be “true” Conservatism today has almost nothing to do with the Conservative movement of the last 100 years. It’s nothing to do with Eisenhower or Reagan and everything to do with the John Birch Society, an organization so anarchic and backwards that it was considered backwards even back in 1958, when it was founded to “combat the Communist menace.”
Yes, Joseph McCarthy was from the school of the Birchers and today, still, the group believes that its witch hunts during the McCarthy era were justified. This, from 2011:
“Senator Joseph McCarthy’s accusations of Communist penetration in the State Department are proven to still be the case as the U.S. District Court Judge sentences former State Department employee Walter Kendall Myers and, his wife, Gwendolyn Meyers to life in prison after nearly 30 years of being Communist spies on behalf of Cuba’s intelligence agency – the CuSI (formerly known as the DGI).”
And the Society hated the Civil Rights Movement, believing it was a Communist plot. The group is and has always been insular, bigoted, a promoter of the idea that we are essentially all on our own, that our natural and civil rights dictate that we must be this way. You can see their influence today in the the conspiracy driven frenetic propaganda that comes from the Tea Party and aligned movements. You can see it in our House of Representatives where ideological purity is valued over the ability to make a deal or achieve a practical outcome, where any malevolent act is justified in a Salafist manner.
There is no real world.
There is only the world that should be. In this, those that wield the RINO moniker so lightly are more akin to the “Communist behind every tree” John Birchers than they are Reagan or Eisenhower or Nixon who now sit like empty idols in the history of their Party. These Presidents weren’t afraid to talk to their enemies. They welcomed the opportunity. Here’s what Eisenhower had to say about America’s belief about itself and the world in 1953.
First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.
Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only ineffective cooperation with fellow-nations.
Third: Any nation’s right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.
Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.
And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.
To Conservatives today, the above smacks of collectivism, the idea that we are all intertwined, that there is a greater WE present on this planet than there is an I, that the two are reciprocal in purpose, that my freedom allows me to make democratic decisions with other free men and women. No, this is Socialism, this must lead to a loss of rights and the faceless death that a loss of individuality leaves as its legacy. On a deep level, it is pure id. I must never be asked to work with others for a common goal. I am an individual and the existence of others diminishes me. Nonsense.
Today, Conservatives fear to be moderate. They fear to be reasonable or collaborative or proponents of scientific thought. They fear to be associated even with ideas that their more reasonable ancestors championed such as Obamacare, the 90s product of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the model against which Conservatives measured HillaryCare.
Bob Dole ran for President on Obamacare in 1996 and Mitt Romney enacted it as Governor of Massachusetts. Now, it seems, all those men, the staunchest of Conservatives in the 80s, 90s, and even the early 2000s, are Republicans in name only. This is the nature of the movement. Republicans must be made to forget and disavow. They must pledge to never remember so that, like a newborn baby or an Alzheimer’s sufferer, every day is new.
It’s no wonder then that Glenn Beck did so well prior to being kicked off the Fox News Channel. I recall watching him while jogging in my DC gym circa the late 2000s and I remember being stunned that he was talking crap about Teddy Roosevelt. I recall distinctly thinking, “This man would assassinate Lincoln’s character if the Civil War hadn’t freed the slaves.” And he would have. Now Beck is one thing. He’s easily debunked if you’re willing to read but ideological purity isn’t about reading, it’s about belief.
Today, among extreme Conservatives, Republican Progressive Teddy Roosevelt is roundly hated for doing such horrible things as establishing National Parks (all of which are closed at the time of this writing), breaking up business monopolies that drove down wages, decreased competition to nil, and centralized capital among the elite wealthy.
Regarding the National Parks, they hate him because he “took property from the states.” This is nonsense. The Park system is an absolute source of neverending revenue for the rural areas that surround these parks. The truth is that the “hate Roosevelt” meme has always been about the desire on the part of industry during Roosevelt’s day and today (see ANWAR) to mine and timber those parks. That’s their definition of “stealing land” aka he “stole” it before business interests could purchase and privatize it. Regarding trust busting, which Roosevelt was beloved for in his day, corporations don’t want competition, they want profit. This is to be expected. Why would a business ever want competition? Competition is hard.
But all of this comes down to one horrible thesis which extreme Conservatives now believe and that is that the government interferes with the lives of American citizens. Can you hear anarchic and corporate voices behind this belief? Republicans didn’t believe this in the past. They believed in small business and competition. They believed in national treasures to be enjoyed by all and when a group of reactionaries refused to be reasonable, much like today, Roosevelt had this to say.
I am not leading this fight as a matter of aesthetic pleasure. I am leading because somebody must lead, or else the fight would not be made at all. I prefer to work with moderate, with rational, conservatives, provided only that they do in good faith strive forward toward the light. But when they halt and turn their backs to the light, and sit with the scorners on the seats of reaction, then I must part company with them. We the people cannot turn back. Our aim must be steady, wise progress.
He believed that America as a country and as a concept could become. He believed that there was something to become. He was nothing like today’s civic atheists who wallow in their own cynicism. He believed in opportunity and hope, an absolute requirement for true leadership. We need these leaders today but in the GOP they are nowhere to be found.
But why can’t they be found? Where did they go? I have a hypothesis that I believe has a lot of traction. In 2000, George W. Bush was elected President. It hadn’t been that long since the US had a Republican in the White House. What was different was that the Republican Party held both the House and the Senate as well. Not since 1994’s “Republican Revolution” led by Newt Gingrich (another politician now often referred to as a RINO) had the GOP held both houses of Congress and not since 1952 had had they held both houses of Congress and the Presidency. This Republican majority in the Executive and Legislative branches continued until 2006.
What came next was calamity. George Bush lowered taxes while the US engaged in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The economy had already been in a dip and growth was tepid. Scandal after scandal rocked those years as you probably (hopefully) remember and this, the deregulation, the low taxes for the rich, the torture accusations and lies about the Iraqi threat, the death and spending, all culminated in a 2008 financial crisis every bit as powerful as that which began the Great Depression in 1928.
This is failure on a monumental scale. It is beyond any Republican’s worst nightmares. Finally, you have all the pieces in place and you can get your policies into action, finally. But what came next were results that completely repudiated these policies. You’ve failed, publicly, and the entire plan is revealed to be an absolute house of straw.
What were Republicans to do? I don’t know of a single Conservative that speaks well of the Bush years now if they’ll speak of them at all.
From what I can tell, those years have been purposely wiped from the collective memory of every Republican in the United States. No one can handle the stink of failure to this degree. It’s intolerable that everything you’d believed and declared for decades should turn out to be so absolutely demonstrably untrue. So, they stripped it away, the entire Bush era. They stripped it away and what was left? When they’d removed the boards in the floor, the base upon which they stood, what was in the basement? The anarchy and paranoia of the John Birch Society.
You see, that’s the thing with a complete failure of this kind. It requires extreme measures to forget. Now, the Republicans running the show no longer have grand visions of a future where government is small but men and women are free and commerce vibrant and various. Now the dream is of fire, that the US should be the stage upon which their greatest failure played out requires not simply a denial that the show was a failure. It requires the burning of the stage as well. No one must know that at one time government worked and worked well, that the nation thrived under ideas from Conservatives who were forward looking and cared about all Americans. No, the motto has changed from a focus on limited government and fiscal solvency to something far more dire, something that has been hidden for decades just under the surface. It is the anti-Kennedy. It is the spoiled and fearful and dull insurrectionist’s call to arms, “What has the government ever done for me?”
I don’t want this. I want a Conservative Party that does its job, that questions in the right way, that puts country and practicality and shared goals first. We on the Left must have it. We need it. If you’re Conservative and finished reading this then understand I’m asking you for it. We can stand no more of this kind of thinking.
It could be said that Democratic Party has the opposition Party that it deserves, that Democrats as they’re currently incarnated are a shadow of their former selves, that the entire political system in which they exist is decadent to the point of breaking. It is in this vacuum of leadership and insight that insurrectionist parties arise. They don’t arise simply because and they don’t have supporters just because. An entire chain of events brings these parties and ideas to the fore.
We have become a cruel nation of warmongers and cowards. We beg for security but shun the shackles that it brings us. We despise our faceless neighbors whom we are told despise us greatly even though we experience them almost solely through the filter of the media. Every man and woman is our enemy. Everyone is a danger to us. We snipe at them over the internet. We hide behind handles and profiles for this kind of child’s work. We cannot abide the possibilities intrinsic in dialogue.
Intellectually, we are bankrupt and our insecurities at being questioned, any expression of difference of opinion, is greeted with fear and suspicion. Such is the strength of our arguments that we convince no one and, indeed, many of us barely convince ourselves much of the time.
Some readers may ask me for an answer to all this. An answer is coming.