Yesterday on the way home from the art studio, I tuned into AM 560, The Answer, a conservative radio station based here in Chicago.
The afternoon drive shift is occupied by Joe Walsh, the former Congressman and peripatetic Tea Party advocate whose appealing voice and communication style is one or the most seductively conservative personas you will ever hear.
I extend that compliment because I really do appreciate that radio is a craft. To be an effective radio personality you must have the voice, yes, but also a method of delivery that compels people to listen.
There are many such compelling radio personalities on the air. Rush Limbaugh is clearly an effective communicator. His audience loves his blustering style and critical takedowns of anything that he considers un-American.
Hannity and the like
Sean Hannity is the pretty-boy communicator that functions well on both TV and radio. His voice has that wonderful clear quality that cuts through the airwaves to make you feel as if you’re sitting next to him, sharing thoughts and bitching about liberals. He can make even the most outrageous lie or twisted argument sound palatable and true. And that is his dark art.
Bill O’Reilly is a talented writer as well as a TV personality. His “no spin zone” is however, completely devoted to spinning items on the news cycle to a conservative palate. Thus he exemplifies how conservatives effectively corner the market on hypocrisy.
None of these guys is stupid. They are, however, masters at manipulative communication. They are all practiced stewards of conservative disgust with modernism and liberal ideology. This is the reason they exist, and their shows all reflect the money-making value of expressing populist disgust with anything metaphorically democratic.
Dead for life
That is true with both the Constitution and the Bible, both of which conservatives claim to protect with their very lives. Originalism is the principle defense mechanism for the United States Constitution, and the hero of all time in that category is Justice Antonin Scalia, who proclaimed that document “dead for life” in that no one should be able to vary from its initial meaning or context.
And while none of the personalities mentioned above are theologians, they still appeal to those who consider a literal interpretation of scripture to be in alignment with the original interpretation of the Constitution.
Spit it out
These are the foundational belief systems of conservative commentators. Line it up and spit it out by whatever means you can use (For @realdonaldtrump, it is Twitter) to justify the fundamental contentions of conservative ideology or the baseless information used to deflect commentary from whatever source it arrives.
This red-meat ideology does not hearken to much seasoning or high criticism from a liberal perspective. Which is why, when Meryl Streep attacked the neoconservative movement and it’s Hair Apparent, President-elect, Donald Trump, even those conservatives who hold their nose at the thought of his inauguration still rushed to his defense.
This was the case with our local boy Joe Walsh, who took the critical remarks made by Meryl Streep at the Golden Globe awards that took to task Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter. Walsh ignored the actual point in her words and turned her forum into his own screed about how liberals look down on the rest of America.
So, let’s take stock of why and how this works. The First Rule of all such conservatives is simple: Never, ever admit that a liberal might have a point even about even the worst representative of your ideology.
The Second Rule is to take any issue and turn it into a point of anger toward liberals. Thus oe Walsh took Streep’s remarks about the violent nature of NFL football and Mixed Martial Arts and turned them into a populist claim that Streep was “looking down her nose” at all fans of football and the UFC.
Well, she was making a point based on fact, not looking down on anyone. Even the NFL has to admit that many of its athletes suffer massively from participation in the sport. The suicides of multiple athletes suffering brain injuries has even led leading prospects to abandon the game rather than risk a life ruined by brain disease caused by multiple traumas such as concussions. These are facts, not liberal opinion. But men like Joe Walsh care little about such realities because they do not align with the dismissive ideology of the neoconservative, Tea Party lot that cannot admit facts that stand in the way of their beliefs.
Gambling with concerns
And let’s ask a few questions to document the real situation. Do NFL fans truly care if the athletes that play their favorite sport suffer lifelong injuries, debilitating conditions and brain disease? There is very little evidence that they do. Yet another former NFL player took their own life by gunshot a week ago. The news cycle swallows up the story and the talk show hosts on ESPN make believe it matters and then everyone gets back to the injury reports and the point spreads on the games this weekend.
Nor do they really care in the long term if their favorite players abuse their wives in domestic violence, arrange dogfighting rings or do performance-enhancing drugs. What seems to matter to most football fans and their sports talk radio cheerleaders is that they line their asses up on Sunday and play the game. It’s a toughman’s sport, and they’re well paid. What’s the problem?
The sad thing is that the same mentality carries over to the conservative refusal to adequately fund benefits for our military veterans. For all the lip service given to “patriots” and kissing the ass of the military, the simple fact is that conservatives don’t, in the end, care about anything more than blocking funding or cutting costs for the VA. It happens over and over again, yet conservatives still make the claim they care more about the military and veterans than liberals. But the truth does not bear that out.
The same goes for vital social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare. Conservatives claim to have better solutions for all these programs, but in forty years since Ronald Reagan there have been zero practical proposals other than cutting these programs by privatizing them. But as we’ve seen by how conservatives handled the eight years under Bush and company, that can lead to economic collapse. Conservatives love gambling with such concerns, and are now in a position to toss social programs to the curb. Yet they literally have no game plan in place to replace Obamacare other than some plays scribbled down on a Congressional napkin somewhere.
This short-term approach aligns with the short-attention span conglomerate that is the NFL, an organization that obsessively works to occupy the brainwaves of its fans 24/7, 365 days a year. Similarly, the Republican Party cares farm more about gaining power than the practicality of its policies. It is good at winning elections but terrible about the game plan of actual governance. That’s why the state of Kansas went bankrupt under Brownback, and why the Bush years resulted in a massive recession. Republicans don’t now shit about how to run a country. They just think they do, like armchair quarterbacks bitching about how Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning can’t play the game.
The entire Republican Party is like a football fantasy league with little regard for the long-term well-being of either its players or its fans. For all the social commitments and charity efforts by those involved in the NFL “family,” the dehumanization of pro football players is too real to deny. Thus we live in a world where Fantasy Football leagues and gambling sites dominate our culture and where Fantasy Football “players” are freely objectified by reducing them to a mantle of depersonalized statistics. This it the same level of consideration given by Republicans to the real life effects of Obamacare, Medicare or Social Security on real Americans. The party lives in a fantasy world of its own ideology. They believe they can buy and sell options and their gambles will all come out good in the end.
The same can be said of participants in the sport known as “mixed martial arts.” For years, the sport existed as a breed of backroom violence on the same level as cockfighting or dog-fighting. Only these were real-live human beings beating the living crap out of each other. And considering the mixed martial arts strategy known as “ground and pound,” contestants are literally locked into positions that amount to fighting with their cocks. Considering the general homophobia rife within the party, it is a wonder conservatives haven’t found that dynamic sufficient grounds to ban the sport for fear that it will encourage other young men to grind their genitals together.
And yes, the sport of boxing has for decades produced the same sort of concussive entertainment. Google “Mike Tyson knockouts” and you’ll get both the massively violent results of that boxer’s successes and failures. His rather sexualized career also included rape and domestic abuse, yet he remains a favorite for what he did in the ring. And isn’t that nice that people are so willing to dismiss these potent realities and social disgraces to foment the violent fantasies of victory and suppression?
The real lesson is that what goes up in violent sports also always comes down. Mike Tyson has learned and publicly acknowledged the difficulties he faced in coming from poverty into wealth, and the perversions he engaged when his trainer died. Directionless and disabused, he like George Foreman as well engaged in a liberal dose of self-assessment and has redeemed his life in many respects. That does not mean that Foreman did not find his faith, which many conservatives would love to claim as a sign of his contrition. Instead, the humanist realization that a radical selfishness drove downfalls drove both men to liberalize their worldviews. They became more tolerant, more forgiving, more accepting of others and themselves. They grew beyond the violence of their sports.
And American needs to do the same.
Gladiators and emperors
Society has always thrilled to the populist destruction of heroes and villains in public places. The Roman Colosseum was only one of many ancient theaters where the lives of other human beings were destroyed for public entertainment. Some of this violence was by choice while others, such as gladiators, were typically forced or thrown into combat for the simple joy of witnessing violent ends.
And that’s what Meryl Streep was criticizing. Because the sport of politics and the destruction of lives is just as real in popular culture as it is in the sports arena. When Donald Trump clearly set out to mock a disabled reporter, his position of power was used to threaten the weak. This is no better than Nero throwing Christians to the lions, or burning them at the stake. Given enough authority, warped emperors and fascist-oriented world leaders will sacrifice anyone that stands in their way.
Low instincts and mass appeal
But Joe Walsh refused to acknowledge the low instincts he chose to advocate over a reasonable dissection of Trump methodology. Instead, he went after the low instincts of the masses with a tribal defense of pro football. He was literally drawing a parallel between NFL football and basic American values. That is not only a false contention, it illustrates a complicity that borders on no morality at all. But let’s admit it, Meryl Streep is right. As defined by pro football and mixed martial arts, lowbrow violence has enormous mass appeal. We already knew that from the Roman Colosseum. It just needed updating.
NFL football also has another interesting similarity to Donald Trump that Joe Walsh failed to acknowledge. For reasons having to do with a brand of corporate welfare to which everyday citizens are never availed, the NFL as an organization does not pay any taxes. Its profits including massive public incentives for teams to build stadiums all flow back into its violently protective coffers.
Yet somehow the league has had trouble coughing up even the most basic funding to assist the health and lives of players who have given their health and minds to the sport. The NFL players union has had to fight tooth and claw to get some money back to assist players destroyed by the game. Some retired players have despaired at their condition, taken guns to their chest or head, and ended their lives. Read this story about Dave Duerson. And the NFL has basically said, “Oh, that’s too bad. At least you made some money while you played America’s sport.”
That’s what the deal is in all this. As long as someone is making money, somewhere, it doesn’t matter what happens to the rest of the world. If someone shoots themselves as a result of the damage they endured, that’s their choice. That’s a real dose of hardline conservatism, right there.
Along those lines, these athletes do choose to engage in these sports. Yet it is still hard to find real justification for the brain-pounding, ground-scrabbling sport of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships). The sport is largely graceless striving, a bout of outright, unmitigated violence using fists, feet and elbows and even choking to generate a “submission” or “tap out” indicating that one competitor is close enough to death to finally give up.
That’s the sport that Joe Walsh used to criticize Meryl Streep. That’s what Joe Walsh considers more important than defending the legitimate prose of a journalist doing his job despite a physical disability. That’s why Meryl Streep tried to document the difference in what America is becoming versus what the nation has accomplished through its many amendments to the Constitution (a living, breathing document indeed) that has worked to deliver civil rights and protections for all, not just the powerful, privileged few or the otherwise ignorant, selfish masses that don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to others.
And that is exactly what Donald Trump represents.
Yet all Donald Trump could find to say is that “Meryl Streep does not know me,” as if the litany of ugly public statement by Trump were no indication of his true and ugly personal character. These are the words of a most selfish idealogue, a man so inconsiderate that even his peers, also selfish and self-centered conservative ideologues such as Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and even New Gingrich find it hard to defend the man known as The Donald. They hold their nose and kiss his butt in public because politics is also a form of Mixed Martian Arts. It’s winner-take-all from the conservative point of view. Get the other side to Tap Out. Whatever it takes. No compromise. No quarter. Smashmouth. And if you happen to ridicule a disabled reporter along the way, so be it. At least we won.
Joe Walsh knows he should be ashamed of himself for his remarks about Meryl Streep. But something in him has grown so suspicious and defensive about the reason and intellect upon which this nation was founded that he is constantly forced to invent new ways to defend the indefensible irony of his own beliefs. This is neoconservatism in a nutshell, a worldview that corners the market on hypocrisy every single day of the year.
Conservatives love to mock the so-called impracticality of Hollywood and its largely Democratic representatives. They have tried, over the ages, to equate the bleeding heart concerns of actors with communism or socialism or anti-patriotism but have failed time and again for the simple reason that liberalism remains, and always will be, the baseline ideology upon which American was founded, and upon which all progress has been gained.
Denial as a worldview
That is no act. That is reality. But men such as Joe Walsh and Rush Limbaugh go about denying that realities such as hunger in America actually exist, or that Planned Parenthood actually prevents far more abortions than it ever performs.
And that is why neoconservatives such as Joe Walsh deserve to be shouted down. They may have a powerful format and a willing audience, but that is only an indication that the lowbrow populism they advocate is as prevalent as any other pandemic likely to cause the downfall of the human race.
They are, in a word, a disease to be reckoned with. And the only cure is truth. Those of us tuned into the echo chamber will have to be vocal and forthright. We will have to hold these neocontrarians accountable for what they say and do.
It may be a 24 hour job, 365 days a year.