The other day, one of those Internet memes was making the rounds, this one lamenting the focus on Chick-Fil-A when there are just so many other, more pressing problems, such as the price of gas, the lack of jobs, the ongoing cost of wars abroad, and the federal deficit.
I couldn't help but see the common thread. The same people who are all hoo-rah over Chick-Fil-A's five million dollar contributions to anti-gay causes are, by and large, the same ones who are anti-regulation, anti-jobs bill, and pro-war. They supported Bush's multi-billion dollar attack on Iraq, and still support tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations (and conveniently blame Obama for the long-term financial consequences). They believe the Second Amendment right to bear arms should have few or no limits, allowing people like James Holmes to buy as many guns, of any type, as they see fit.
The same people who want the government to define marriage as "between one man and one woman" are, (again, generally speaking), the same ones who are anti-legislation on issues of hate crimes and bullying. They're the ones who cheered the loudest at the prospect of a government shutdown over the issue of women's health. They're against the Affordable Care Act, against a woman's right to choose, against social service programs, against critical thinking and evolution being taught in schools, and they're even against Michelle Obama's initiative to make school lunches healthier. They've stood against the U.S. passage of a Children's Bill of Rights, and today they're against the Head Start program for children of the poor.
They are against so many things, but when questioned about exactly what it is they stand for, five parts of their platform are continuously repeated:
1. They are Christians (but only of the cherry-picked Bible verses, right-wing persuasion).
2. They believe in Christian "values" (but only those that denigrate the people they wish to oppress, and lift those they want to see lifted).
3. They are pro-family (but only if those families are one man, one woman, and their kids, with bonus points given to those who homeschool or who send their kids to private schools).
4. They believe in "freedom," e.g., the government and "activist" courts not interfering in individual rights (unless the courts rule in their favor, as they did in 2000, and unless those individual rights belong to a minority they wish to oppress).
5. They believe in the moral and capitalistic tenets of the very godless novelist Ayn Rand, whose childhood scars left her with a sycophantic, idolatrous, and impracticably exalted view of the wealthy.
Maybe I'm cynical, but the first three of these seem to be propagandist smokescreens by which to win votes. When conservatives married fundamentalist religion over vows of votes and dogma-friendly policies during the Reagan years, a shift in Republican politics occurred. In the years since, more and more Republican moderates find themselves being cast out, while extremists are ushered in. The higher and more alarmist the rhetoric, the better, especially if it falls in line with entrenched, fundamentalist fears and prejudices: Single women are destroying the family, gays are a threat to everything sacred, sex education is scary, school prayers are good, science is bad.
On and on the perverse relationship between right-wing politics and religion goes -- until even Jesus is turned into a gun-toting, poor people-despising, gay-bashing Randian character, who has commanded that the rich be specially blessed, while those who are poorer should sow their seeds of faith at the feet of the wealthy.
It is this peculiar and twisted vein of politics that promotes bigotry, exclusion, and division. And while I firmly believe that violent people will be violent regardless of their politics or religion, to say that the right-wing rhetoric doesn't embolden the hateful is absolutely disingenuous. When a party preaches fire and brimstone beliefs against equality --
-- when its speeches refer to gays as abominations and abortion providers as murderers
-- when it devalues the non-religious, liberal Christians, and people of other faiths
-- when it actually courts racists, sexists, homophobes, and the religiously intolerant to its side (just read the message boards of any social issue and see who's aligning themselves with the right-wing)
-- how can it then play dumb and unwitting when it comes to the violent acts committed in the name of racism, religious intolerance, and homophobia? How can a party that promotes intolerance deny that their rhetoric emboldens those prone to violence? How can the same party that so roundly condemned Islamic radicals for their fundamentalist beliefs and speeches -- which they acknowledge to have led to violence and oppressive governments in the Middle East -- deny all culpability when it comes to hate crimes in the U.S.?
How many anti-choice clinics have been bombed? How many anti-abortion doctors have been killed? How many Southern Baptist churches have been visited by gunmen, how many Christian daycare centers? How many straight people have been beaten or killed solely for being heterosexual? How many moderate or liberal groups have formed to picket funerals while waving hateful signs?
No, to be clear, I do not blame Republicans for these acts. As I said, violent people will be violent. What I am saying is that today's right-wing rhetoric, as extremist as it is, adds a considerable amount of fuel to the fires of hate. The party's messages are divisive, regressive, and almost wholly negative. Its "Christian" platform, which has been sold like snake oil to millions, is becoming more and more transparent as a sham cover for corporate greed, political profiteering, and minority oppression.
What I am saying is that it's all connected: The long lines at Chick-Fil-A, presumably to support free speech, cannot be untied from the bigotry of the speech that was being supported, or the $5 million that Dan Cathy contributed to anti-equality groups. The state of our economy cannot be divorced from an antagonistic Republican Senate that would rather drive our country into the ground than see a Democratic president, voted in by the people, get re-elected. The divisive climate in this country cannot be separated from the rhetoric that is seeking to divide it even farther. Hate crimes based on race, religion, or sexual preference cannot conveniently be disconnected from extreme and exclusionary political speeches.
Hate may be emboldened by many factors, but political rhetoric is probably the most powerful one. We should never, ever forget that, and if we do, a short trip into history should remind us. There's no good purpose in propaganda, no God in war, no love in oppression, no hope in inequality, and no bright future in bigotry.