Bigotry, today’s GOP, cruelty, and lies.|mt:0|Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates recently posited racism as cruelty — from jokey emails suggesting that the President’s dead mother indulged in bestiality to the cruelty inherent in “sneer[ing] at the unguarded thoughts of dead children,” and so much else besides. He takes the idea further:

[T]his embrace of cruelty is arguably the dominant feature of the present conservative movement. It has been repeatedly expressed in alleged “humor.” The assertion of a right of judgement over the First Lady’s physical person, for instance. Or watermelon patches on the front lawn. Or Obama waffles.  There is little distance from that kind of cruelty to aspirin between one’s legs and from aspirin between one’s legs to transvaginal probes.

I find Ta-Nehisi’s point particularly powerful. Let’s call conservative social attitudes, policies and legislative efforts what they are: Mean. Mean-spirited. Cruel. When you reduce living, breathing human beings to your worst ideas about them, and act on that reduction, you’re acting with genuine cruelty. Plain and simple.

But here’s another thing that I can’t stop thinking about: When you do these things, you’re also lying.

Bigotry is lies.

It doesn’t matter if the bigot actually believes what he or she is saying. When you tell me that black Americans should “demand paychecks instead of food stamps” — you’re spreading lies. When you tell me that “if you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage” — you’re spreading lies. When you tell me that Islam and Muslims are “pure, unadulterated evil” — you’re spreading lies.

Spanish is the “language of living in the ghetto“? Women frequently and regularly lie about having been raped? Recipients of unemployment insurance need to “get off their backsides and get a job… [and] stop stealing from their neighbors“? Lies, lies, and more lies.

Cruel lies, at that.

These are not differences of opinion, or legitimate perspectives on the world. These are lies told and perpetuated in order to allow those who tell them to have power over certain classes of human, or, at the very least, to feel superior to said humans. And I’m done pretending otherwise.

I can accept that your religion teaches you that men should control women, and that birth control and abortion are wrong. But when you insist that you have a right to impose that belief on me in this country, a secular nation by definition and design — you’re lying. You can believe in your heart of hearts that homosexuality is disgusting. But when you insist that you have a right to deny LGBTQ Americans their civil rights as a result — you’re lying. On and on and bloody on.

At a certain point, willed and willful ignorance becomes willed and willful deceit, of the self and of others. If you honestly believe that certain people deserve to be denied some measure of human dignity because of how the Good Lord/Mother Nature created them? Then you, sir or madam, are full of it.

And if you’re an elected representative of one of this nation’s two political parties (like every single one of the people to whom I link following the words “bigotry is lies”), I have an even greater duty to call you on it.


  1. corkingiron

     /  April 11, 2012

    Would you like to know what’s bugging me? I’LL TELL YOU WHAT’S BUGGING ME! (Deep breath……) It bugs me that people like John Darbyshire and others of his ilk look at me and see one of their own. It bugs me that misogynist d*ckheads look at me and see one of their own. It bugs me that Christianist religious fanatics look at me and see one of their own.

    I like the confusion that overtakes them when it dawns on them that I’m actually not one of their own.

    Am I a white male? Not in any way that would me meaningful to them, no.

    Thanks for space to vent.

  2. stephen matlock

     /  April 11, 2012

    Here’s what I’m doing.

    I’m going to live a positive, outward-facing life. I’m going to love those who look like me and those who do not look like me, and work to the place where everyone looks like me.

    I’m going to oppose this kind of bigotry, but I’m not going to be consumed with simply being anti-bigotry. I won’t let the life-suckers into my head or my heart. I’m going to choose to be kind, assertive, gentle, immoveable.

    When I hear the lies, I’ll oppose them. When I see the hate, I’ll act. When I feel the hurt, I’ll be a listener and a toucher and a healer.

    There are so many people who get their energy by destroying life. I won’t let them destroy me, and I’ll go one better – I’ll be the kind of person that chooses to live and enjoy life.

    It took me a long, long time to realize that this is what I want. I can’t help it – I’m the kind of person that wants what is good. It’s time for me to act on those wants.

  3. helensprogeny

     /  April 11, 2012

    Emily, there are not enough like in my bag for this post. This is going straight on my FB page. And on the TNC FB page. Thanks.

  4. Zorro

     /  April 11, 2012

    I don’t think that calling each other names, even (especially!) if those names are justified, improves the deplorable quality of political discourse in this country. Screaming at the Right that they are indulging in “cruelty” and “lies” will only harden their resolve, just as the names they scream at us harden ours. Do you really think that all of the people you reference are just evil people? Really? All of them?

    We need to start with the assumption that most people, almost all people save some sociopaths, are well-intentioned. Yes yes, Progressives, even people who disagree with us. Even if they disagree with us a lot. Like us, they are attempting to build a better and happier society. Assume it even before you see it.

    Then, armed with this assumption, go into the argument, and as a beginning position, demand the same of them. Gently, but remorselessly. Ask them outright if they really think you are trying to tear society down. The ones who do think that, who thing in turn that you are a sociopath, ignore them. But there will be some, only some, as there are only some of us, who are willing to stop screaming for 5 minutes and listen to someone else’s point of view.

    In that small group, let us listen to each other, to our hopes and our fears. We will find that we have more in common than you might think, and that some of our opinions are based on factual falsehoods. You must be willing to listen too, and to admit that maybe you don’t know everything. In that discussion, if it can happen, is the only hope of democracy.

    The other alternatives are far worse, and by screaming we bring them closer.

    People on either side who are not willing to do this are part of the problem.

    • A) Did the word evil come up, even once, in my post? (Other than when I quoted an elected member of the Republican party calling Muslims evil?)

      B) I’m not name-calling – I’m naming the facts. It is cruelty to perpetuate bigotry, and bigotry is a pack of lies.

      C) I’m not talking here about private people, as I think I make pretty clear: I’m talking about the party and its representatives. I wouldn’t recommend opening almost any conversation with the words “You’re a cruel liar.” But neither do I think that avoiding those words, when discussing the party and its policies as a whole, just because they’re unpleasant, is a good idea.

  5. Zorro

     /  April 11, 2012

    Emily, with all due respect, “the [Republican] party and its representatives” are, the last time I looked, people. Human beings. Especially the representatives part. There are no Martians here, and Citizens United to the contrary, these entities (“the party”) are legal fictions. If there is “crueltry” in the picture anywhere, there are human beings being cruel; if there are “lies,” there are liars. (This last charge is especially venonous, the flame of “cruelty” notwithstanding, since one can be cruel without realizing it, but one cannot be a “liar” without recognizing, and rejecting, the truth. By definition. One who speaks a falsehood believing it to be true is not a liar; she is only mistaken. Only people who know the truth and who consciously speak the contrary are “liars.”)

    Now as it happens I agree with your evaluation in general, but I do not think that saying so in these terms is likely to make the current situation better; rather the contrary. These terms would be better avoided, not because they are “unpleasant,” but because they make a bad situation worse. (I know it’s fun to talk like this in the bosom of the family, but I doubt that it is productive.)

    I believe, sometimes without a lot of evidence, that the Republican Party, as a whole and considered as the aggregate of the people who make it up, is attempting to build a better society than the one we have currently. (Some few sociopaths aside (and we know we have sociopaths over here, God love them (ick)). God knows we could use the improvement, I am certainly with the opposition so far. I disagree, very much, with their tactics, and sometimes with their values, and sometimes with their specific goals, but I admit their good will, both individually and collectively.

    Unless we can all do that for each other, I am afraid we are not going to get very far improving our current situation.

    They mean well. Can we get that far? And this too: we may have something to learn here, we don’t know everything just yet.

    If you personally don’t admit the good will of many, if not most, of the opposition, if you don’t think you have anything to learn here, since you already know everything, please say so forthrightly, and I will take my attention elsewhere.

    Putting up posts for each other that say Let’s call conservative social attitudes, policies and legislative efforts what they are: Mean. Mean-spirited. Cruel is fun, I admit it. But I doubt that it shows any of us the way out of this deplorable situation.

    My opinion only. I am much a minority voice right now: both sides are glorying in vilifying each other.

    I think this passtime unwise. We should have more important goals than that. Like fixing the many messes we have got ourselves into.

    • It’s very easy to vilify an entity when it is seen as monolithic and talking heads who say awful things are taken as indicative of the whole of whatever side that is (conservatives, liberals, Christians, Muslims, Americans, whatever). There is so much nuance, and there are good, loving people in every group who might have views we think are seriously messed up. One can only hope that they’ll eventually see that they’re wrong, but it’s only stooping to their level to deny them the humanity they deny to others.

      I think we’re all guilty of vilification and generalization to some degree, but prick all of us and we bleed. I know there were things I once thought about the world and other people that were wrong, wrong, wrong, but if someone’s got a beating heart and an honest mind, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll come around to some extent.

      I feel alienated from both liberals who deem me as “too conservative” (for having some serious issues with abortion) and conservatives who think me too liberal for saying that all human life needs to be treated with dignity and respect so it’s totally not ok to be torturing, dehumanizing minorities within our culture, and believing that the life of someone in another country is just as precious as ours. Sometimes I just want to check out of all of it.

    • Zorro

       /  April 11, 2012

      Don’t check out, prunella, we need you!

      The impulse to subject everyone to an orthodoxy test (“are your views on abortion/SSM/tax rates/racial relations/whatever Exactly What The Party Dictates? NO? You are out!”) crosses all ideological and religious boundaries. The “party line” stifles creative discourse regardless of which party it is.

      The courage to think for yourself is always and everywhere under attack, and is at the same time our most precious resource.

      • WM Rine

         /  April 11, 2012

        Zorro, there’s a time to find common ground and play nice and there’s a kind to speak plainly to bad behavior. Your characterization of the post doesn’t match either its tone or content. You are engaging in false equivalence. The examples Emily cites are not something that right and left both do.

        The conservative political party in this country has decided to act monolithically. They have also inadvertently agreed to call out each others’ lies and hateful turns of speech. This post is very much in order. If you can cite examples of members of Congress or state legislatures using the kinds of malicious, unfactual and plain mean language like the examples Emily cites, I’d love to see them.

        During GW Bush’s presidency, some did accuse him of being a Nazi because of the use of torture and the crackdowns on dissent at his political appearances, just as Glenn Beck, for example, and to use just one of many examples, has made similar comparisons of Obama. The left-leaning ones tended to do be protesters and bloggers. I’d like to see an example of an elected member of the Democratic party using that kind of language, or caricaturing Laura Bush the way politicians and pundits on the right routinely do of Michelle Obama. This kind of behavior isn’t only a fairly regular feature of the right — conservative politicians routinely are cheered for this.

        You are right that calling this out so directly often causes people to dig in. I think the president tried to ignore it, and it seems to have only emboldened the behavior. It’s time to do what Emily has done so eloquently here and call it out for what it is.

  6. I made the mistake of watching Face the Nation last weekend. There was a guest on speaking on behalf of conservative religious organization, I can’t remember which. He actually argued that they are the ones on the defensive, and that everything they have been doing is a defense against the attack from the secular left. It’s an interesting insight into their mindset, and explains some of the horrible/desperate laws that are being proposed in states across the country. They know they are losing the battle on gay marriage and gay rights, but abortion remains a much closer fight. We are now witnessing is a full-on frontal assault on what remains of Roe v. Wade.

  7. Zorro

     /  April 11, 2012

    It’s never a mistake to listen to the opposition.

    Knowing that they are on the defensive, or think they are, is important information. Indeed, they are circling the wagons. Dealing with people who are thinking rationally on the one hand, and dealing with people who are on the defensive on the other, are two different things, and understanding the difference is a step forward, not a step back.

    Frightened people need to be reassured that the world is not ending, and they might need some protections which make sense to them if not to us. This is the listening thing I was talking about. For example, the SSM marriage thing. Many on the religious right are fearful that their churches will be forced to celebrate such marriages, as against their doctrines. We can reassure them, and cite the fact that although the RC Church’s view of remarriage after divorce (their view is, in a word, NO) differs and has differed for some years from the secular society’s rule, no one has yet suggested that Catholic priests be forced to perform marriages after a divorce. So relax, so also here, this situation will continue unimpaired. (That if the Church doesn’t come into line eventually no one will go? Let them figure that out for themselves.)

    People will only listen to such statements after they stop hyperventilating. So speak calmly, rationally, don’t call names. I mean, really, it’s too obvious.

    If you really don’t care about working this thing out and making our system work, if all you care about is being right, well, I guess not. Be right. Enjoy.

    • You know, it’s funny you mention remarriage after divorce and the Catholic church. The reason, the primary reason, I am no longer a practicing Catholic is because of this rule. I was going to write out a long-winded explanation, but suffice it to say that divorce sucks, and a church is supposed to help you heal (or at least I thought that). The Catholic church, in my experience, does not.

      I still can’t quite get over how betrayed I feel by the church, so I wonder how sympathetic I feel toward them. You’ve given me something to think about.

  8. Here is a quote of Pat Robertson claiming that the current “war on religion” is indistinguishable from the Holocaust:

    Poor thing. If only he could live in a country populated with Christians who make up an over-represented proportion of government and 100% of the presidency and has faith based initiatives and rappers that thank Jesus for their Grammies…oh wait…

    • Zorro

       /  April 11, 2012

      Your NAME is “Your Mom Uses Birth Control”? You are a part of the problem. Try being part of the solution.

  9. Emily, you and Ta-Nehisi are spot on about the cruelty of the GOP. Here’s what I’m having trouble articulating, and maybe you can help me: we on the left ain’t exactly perfect, and we’ve been known to say some pretty nasty things from time to time. So why does it feel qualitatively different when the GOP does it? Is it because I’m a target of their bile and therefore I take it personally? Is it because it’s more “official” when it comes from elected officials rather than pundits or entertainers? Or is it really that they’re engaging in something totally else that is really beyond the pale of civilized discourse? Thanks!

    • I’m admittedly not Emily, but I’ll offer this as a response anyway. The difference in my mind is that the cruelty of language is associated with the GOP’s passage of laws and regulations that enforce that cruelty/bias. Most notably, the GOP has been busy adding language to anti-bullying laws in a number of states to alllow an exception for people who disapprove of certain conduct based on their religious/moral views. Instead of going after bullying (which, by the way, may or may not be a wise area for govt action), the GOP is actually trying to legislate religious bullying.

      Today, the GOP and Romney are trying to make hay out of a comment a democratic strategist made about women who are homemakers. I’m not so bothered by the quote, even though I disagree with it, because I know that the Democratic party is more interested in supporting the lower and middle class family than the Republican party.

      • So, dedc79, I think you’re saying it’s both the language and the context in which it occurs? In other words, if the GOP were trying to carve out a religious exception to anti-bullying legislation that would be one thing, but couple that action with their remarks about [insert group here], the overall picture is one of actually encouraging bullying based on [group membership]. On the other hand, Hilary Rosen’s remark about Ann Romney “not working a day in her life” is an outlier rather than being part of an ongoing vendetta against housewives. So maybe the difference is whether or not there’s a perceived threat?

  10. Zahraflower

     /  April 12, 2012

    Wow, I just stumbled onto your blog via this article. I haven’t had a chance to look around yet but I agree with the sentiments in this post. I am tired of people advocating thinly disguised (if at all) bigotry as a legitimate policy platform.

  11. Dear Ms. Hauser,
    The land taken by Israel in the 1967 war is legally considered ‘Disputed’ despite what the UN and ICC say. It was taken in a defensive war, in response to amny Arab threats, including the closing of the Straits of Tiran, which was considered an act of war, in legal terms, ‘causus belli’. Israel offered peace and return of almost all the land except Jerusalem.
    The Arabs said, No negotiatons, No recognition, No peace. The Arabs invaded in 1948 instead of accepting Partition. The Arabs have not changed their stance one iota since 1947. There never was a Plaestinian entity, the West Bank having been illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948. Only Britain who gave the Hashemites a Jordanian state as the mandated power recognized the Jordanian rule of the West Bank and the Egyptian rule of Gaza. I suggest you read some history, for your education is lacking and for updates on current Arab and Muslim thought two sites. 1) Memri and 2) PMW. Both have direct translations of current Arab intentions to elliminate Israel. What is sacrosanct about the 1967 cease fire lines? I suggest you find the interview Abba Eban gave Mike Wallace in April 1958. If it is not on youtube look at Jewish Ideas Daily. You will see that there is nothing new about Arab and looney left claims.

    • My masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and a lifetime living in, reporting on, and writing about the contemporary Middle East beg to differ.