Democrats are starting to have powerful success painting the GOP as the party of bigots, with good reason. When Ted Nugent channels Bull Conner, delivering a Jim Crow-era rant about our “mongrel” black President the problem gets worse. When Ted Cruz effectively defends him on national TV, the portrait is complete and there is little anyone else can do to fix the damage.
This image of Republicans as the party of racists only touches the surface of the problem. The party’s alliance with bigots is an accident arising from other choices. Bigotry has become a core Republican value not because of racism, per se, but because of the party’s addiction to fear. The GOP has become the de facto home of America’s bigots because it has sought to be the official home of America’s cowards.
Watch Fox News very closely and you will notice one theme present in absolutely every segment – fear. The surface subject may be as dull as fiscal policy, currency, or the weather, but they will find a way to inject fear into the rhetoric. Conservatives are America’s most fiercely pessimistic voting block. They are afraid of almost everything.
Right wing fears are becoming self-realizing. Nowhere is that sad fact more mathematically obvious than in the lunatic obsession with gold. Gold fever has cost ordinary Republicans far more money than they will ever pay to support Obamacare, yet the shiny metal has lost none of its luster on Fox. The ads run all day and night.
In an authentic financial crisis the metal will be as useful as a nice pair of wingtips, but buying gold isn’t about value or financial planning. Like everything else that happens on Fox, buying gold is about buying fear.
Just like Glenn Beck’s favorite scam, Goldline, Ted Nugent and Ted Cruz are selling fear to white people who are watching their privileged place in America and the world melt away. There’s a black man in the White House. Gay people walk around holding hands like its no big deal. Brown people in dirty little foreign countries are getting rich building things the Fox News audience barely understands.
The simple small-town “values” of the past are a ticket to poverty, alienation, and disenfranchisement. In modern America, our most persistent, unsolveable, grueling poverty is found in our overwhelmingly white countryside. The highest rates of food stamp growth are in white suburbs.
Being white and “hard-working” was once enough to guarantee a certain lifestyle. Now South Asian software engineers are our new elite. Women are getting higher education at a faster rate than men. Settling down and having kids with a loving spouse at an early age is a recipe for poverty. Good old-fashioned American values like Sarah Palin espouses will earn you a painful reality show lifestyle.
The “real America” is gone. It has been replaced by something that terrifies a lot of older white Americans. It shouldn’t.
Republicans fought for decades to create this new world. The structural problems created by a dynamic new global economy are a winning lottery ticket compared to the problems we have faced in the past. Unfortunately, confronting these problems requires a level of curiosity and inquiry that frightens a lot of people. Our failure to address these problems in an intelligent way has already destroyed the middle class. It has destabilized the international financial system. Now it threatens to stall economic progress for an entire generation.
Calling out Nugent’s racism is not as important as recognizing where it comes from. As long as Republicans are satisfied living on steady diet of high-calorie, low-fact fear, the country will continue to limp forward. Global capitalism is a complex gift that our ancestors bled to deliver to for us. It is bringing freedom and prosperity we never imagined. It is bringing demands for management and regulation we did not anticipate.
Freedom is forcing us to accept differences in other people that some people find scary. The structural demands of capitalism are forcing us to use government in ways we had not thought necessary. Preserving liberty, humanity, and peace in such a dynamic world will require intelligence, but most of all it will demand courage.
Ted Nugent is a symbol of cowardice. He displays it in his personal life and it soaks every aspect of his public persona. No one with a reasonably secure mind needs to wave guns around. As a party we have to decide whether we still believe in America, whether we still believe in freedom, and whether we still believe in ourselves.