I haven’t written about politics for a long time. There’s a reason for that: I haven’t been closely following politics for a long time. Oh, I’m tangentially aware, mind you, I’m just keeping close to the shore. There’ve been shark sightings. Turning on news television, reading the paper too in-depthly or perusing all the political blogs as I had done historically no longer leads me to a sense of democracy in action, of a great and ongoing conversation about improving the quality of our lives, nor does it make me feel like I’m all colors of smart and that I know what’s happening in the world. Not one bit.
Rather, doing the above has an effect on me for which I’ve not the vocabulary to adequately describe. If I were to try to describe it to you, I’d have to do so by getting on a stage, biting off my right hand, and spewing forth a fountainous cavalcade of bubbly crimson hemoglobin, dousing the audience with it while I sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic and masturbated on a My Little Pony™ with the remaining hand.
Now, if you don’t live in America, you’ve probably been shaking your head at the wacky Vaudeville spectacle of performing minstrels, they being not only hyperbolic American stereotypes, but clearly the product of something akin to severe dementia, inbreeding, low-functioning sociopathy, or some species of hitherto unknown Frankenstein coalescence of these traits. And you wonder what the blazes could be going on in America that such a large swath of the population not only neglects to laugh these intellectual plankton off the world’s stage, but rather radiantly rallies behind them en masse, flags and tea bags in hand, ensuring that everyone and their dog knows that someone understands irony less so than Alanis Morissette.
So you want to know what’s going on? What it’s like here in the States and how things could have gotten so bombastically clownshit in just under a decade? Well, I can’t tell you. I have no idea. In fact, I’m only writing this to see if I can figure it the fuck out for myself. Talking to conservatives used to be like talking to a stove. It just does its thing and not much else. It turned on, it turned off. You could cook things in it and it was very useful, nice, even, if you knew how to interact with it.
Trying to get into the mind of the current American Republican is a lot like trying to play poker with someone and while somewhere around half of their cards are normal playing cards, they also continually try to play Uno™ cards, Pokémon™ cards and the occasional greasily-dripping pastrami sandwich on pumpernickel with jalapeños and a crunchy peanut butter schmear. I don’t understand them. But I have a secret:
I used to be one of them. I was a very conservative kid and young adult. I listened to Rush Limbaugh and thought if you shone a flashlight up his asshole, the light would bounce back into the bulb because it couldn’t stand all the sunshine beaming out. I listened to plenty of other conservative talk show hosts, too, and vociferously agreed with them. I pitied atheists and secularists, thinking they must live empty, soulless lives, meanwhile worrying that they might somehow take over and turn my beloved country into one big anti-God boot camp. I had fantasies about dying for my faith and being the youngest modern martyr. I prayed for Saddam Hussein to be privy to a surprise morning smiting at the hands of an SS-1 Scud missile. Or five. I happily chirped along to parody songs like Drop the Bomb-a, on Nicaragua (to the tune of La Bamba).I said sexist, homophobic, racist things all the time. I even put on ostensible black face to play a horribly offensive and stereotypical Indian character named Habib on our little high school VHS public access comedy show. Because, you know, I was too brave to bow to political correctness, I thought.
So. If I want to understand conservatives, I should probably examine my head at that time, right? What was going on? What was I thinking and how could I have believed and professed all those things and still somehow manage to eventually morph into the person I am today? Yeah. I think I know what the crux may be. I was terrified back then. I was afraid of everything and everyone. I went to Catholic school my entire life. I was used to regiment and order, quick and harsh consequences for misbehavior, and because it was all I knew, I was convinced by the establishment, my elders and my peers that such was the only way to maintain safe order. Without rigid rules, without swift and decisive punishments, and the looming threat of aforementioned penalties, surely there would be bloody and sadistic anarchy the world over.
I was conditioned to obey, not to question, and most importantly/insidiously, to be absolutely petrified of being wholly responsible for the repercussions of my own actions. It’s very easy to do something when “God wants me to,” and it’s easier to avoid doing something that might be challenging, scary and new (but ultimately edifying) if you’ve got the excuse of “God said ‘No.’” Religion served as both a solace and an excuse. I was basically a Jesus pothead. Why go out into the world when I can get a really fun and fuzzy-good feeling right here at home? Jesus, God, Mary and the whole gang made me feel lovely when I thought about them or when I prayed. Or so I thought at the time, but I’ll come back to that.
I had a girlfriend at this time. I thought if I didn’t become a priest, I’d certainly marry her. She was an extremely well-read, startlingly erudite blue stocking kinda gal. She wore her feminism on her sleeve like a badge of honor and she called me and everyone out on the sexist things we said. When she challenged me, I always argued back with caustic bile, more misogyny and even condescending cruelty. Theoretically, I felt I was winning an argument with someone who was smarter than me. In reality, and clearly present in my emotional responses then, I was doing grey lobe backflips, trying to maintain a position on a spiky, painful precipice. I knew she was right. I banished the thought when it arose, but I knew it. I just had to send the notion that I was so far from being on the side of the good guys so as to be a blind ass, into exile.
And doing so took tremendous mental and emotional fuel. Doing so repeatedly, daily, wound me down into a sort of reactionary, paranoid machine that was so fearful of being discovered for the oblivious yet argumentative cretin I was, that my psyche became shattered and compartmentalized.
Meanwhile, I had all this bravery in me that needed to get out. It had been neglected for so long and was, by its nature so much more vast than my cowardice that its suppression was untenable. It had to burst out from some seam or other and it did. As mentioned before, all my ballsyness spat forth like a river in the form of sanctimonious Christian blather-pap. I relished every chance to stand up for God, Jesus, religion and Ronald Reagan. When I did so, I glowed with a pious and vapid pride. I even felt superior to whomever it was that I’d just given the what-for. Wasn’t I a peach?
So that’s where my courage went. It wasn’t being spent fighting for the rights of women, minorities, or other disenfranchised people. It wasn’t being spent to examine who I was and expose that substance to the world to see what flowers would, from its allergic reaction, germinate and bloom. It wasn’t being spent to pay for anything of value, or that meant anything at all. It was being spent just baaaaarely holding on to a system of beliefs that was so patently nonsensical that it served like baffling parasite. It not only confused my pretty awesome girlfriend, her pretty awesome mom, my pretty awesome mom, and all the other nifty people I knew, it also served to constantly keep its host, yours truly, in a state of absolute daffy not-a-clueness.
Being so confused, unbalanced and terrified all the time, not just about politics, people and the intricacies therein, but by the world entire, by my very self, there’s absolutely no wonder that I felt such ease and joy when I forgot about that for a second and thought, “Ah, Jesus…Such a swell guy and He loves me!” while visions of puffy little clouds and hugs and halos and eternal back massages filled my brain. No wonder. No wonder, people. No wonder.
So what finally brought me out of my haze? Well, time for one. I needed time to acclimate to the world as it really was, not as I wished it was or feared it might be. Also, the continuing efforts of my then-girlfriend and others in my college days, albeit seeming to fall on deaf ears at the time, were slowly gestating and percolating, raring to emerge from a too-long-in-ecdysis chrysalis cage. But most importantly, I befriended people who debated with me about these issues, but focused more on getting me to do brave things other than defending religion or religious dogma. They made me go dancing. They made me act on stage. They made me fucking sing in front of people. I then moved to New York City, where a stroll to the deli can often require two bushels and a peck and half of courage. I lived through 9-11 there. I’m not afraid of jack shit now. Least of all some monstrous, bipolar and totalitarian deity invented by desert nomads whose moral compass gleefully included the trading of their pre-teen daughters to grown men in exchange for a few sheep and some wine.
Bearing all of this in mind, I don’t know that I have a particular solution to the conservative problem. I can’t say I’m sure of how to get through to them. But I do know that they’re afraid. And I do know that they’re confused as hell. And I do know that the only things that make them feel better about themselves and the world are praying like I once did and using their bravery stores to defend their antediluvian ideals and ideas. I suspect that we, each of us, is naturally instilled with a finite daily allotment of bravery and while this chutzpah may vary in quality and quantity from individual to individual, I’d at least like to see what happens if, rather, we focus on getting them to join in on the world. To be brave in defense of the defenseless, to face who they really are, twisted desires and all. There’s a little something on my shoulder, whispering in my ear that these folks simply need to go through a crucible and come out the other side with not only a desire, but a compelling and unquenchable need to accept all for who they are, defend freedom of ideas, lifestyle and expression, and to work tirelessly to improve the lot of their fellow gorgeous human beings, the whole goddamn world over.