A national divorce

I don’t want to say too much about my dissertation publicly yet. An initial draft is written, my committee chair has favorably reviewed the first three chapters, and right now, good progress is being made.[1] But one thing I notice about conservatives is that facts often simply do not support their views. I’m not the only one to notice this, of course, but when it comes to undocumented migration from Central America, this attitude seems particularly brutal.

‘Facts’ are a little less clear cut in the case of the county clerk in Kentucky who was jailed for contempt of court for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.[2] The judge has, wisely I think, let her out of jail on condition she not interfere with the issuance of licenses[3] and thus apparently, at least for the moment and maybe only for the moment,[4] deprived social conservatives of their martyr.

One thing that became very apparent over the weekend was that my warning about how conservatives would react to her jailing was largely justified.[5] There were a number of protests[6] and as Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary put it:

This story, now far larger than would have been imagined just a few weeks ago, points to some of the hardest questions faced by Christians who are determined to be faithful to Christ and to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens. Many of these questions defy a simplistic answer. How are Christians who hold elective office to fulfill that office when the nation’s highest court or those holding higher office rule and legislate contrary to Christian conviction? The same question is quickly extended to those serving in the military, holding appointive office, or even merely working for the government.[7]

In fact, social and traditionalist conservatives have a lot of trouble with secular government. Whether it’s taking down the Ten Commandments, sexuality education, or teaching evolution, there is a great deal of conflict between the demands of a secular state and their consciences. And to simply say that office-holders should comply with the law or resign essentially means that social and traditionalist conservatives have to choose between elective office and their consciences.

Right now, that might seem unproblematic. But it’s harder to claim that we protect freedom of conscience when we stake such a position.

Then there are the allegations of hypocrisy all over my news feeds in which civil obedience or a failure to defend state laws seems to be okay when folks on the left do it and not okay when folks on the right do it.[8] At least two point out that then-San Francisco mayor (now California lieutenant governor) Gavin Newsom violated the law when he ordered that same sex marriage licenses be issued in 2004.[9] And, of course, these conservatives appeal to their interpretation of the Bible as what they see as a higher law[10] and roll out tired states’ rights claims.[11]

As Andrew (@AKUContraMundum) tweeted later in the day: “Civil disobedience is only cool when it is God’s Law that’s being broken.” Or, as expressed by Sean Davis, writing on the Federalist.com, “Kim Davis Uproar Shows That Breaking The Law Is Only Okay When Progressives Do It.”[12]

I have the distinct impression that folks on the left look at all this and simply adopt an attitude that time and demographics are on their side, that they can safely ignore the outrage on the right. This hasn’t been working out, at least not yet: “Since [Barack] Obama was sworn in [as president] six years ago, Democrats have suffered net losses of 11 governorships, 30 statehouse chambers, more than 900 statehouse seats, and have lost control of both houses of the U.S. Congress.”[13] But even if it is so, what about all those on the right who already feel besieged, who already feel under attack, who already feel they are subject to a tyranny?

We on the left, of course, also feel besieged, also feel under attack, also feel subject to tyranny.[14] Sometimes, we even worry about a fascist takeover.[15] And when I try to explain right-wing attitudes to people on the left, I meet an intransigence that is the equal of anything on the right.

Simply put, we are not listening to each other and we are unwilling to listen to each other. To deploy that family metaphor that George Lakoff analyzes at length and critiques,[16] this is no longer a case for marriage counseling. It is a case for divorce. Which is a case I made quite a few years ago.[17] For a number of reasons, this is a deeply flawed metaphor and when it comes to a ‘divorce,’ the map I came up with then (and which has been lost) really highlights the huge difficulty of trying to come up with a coherent division.[18] Simply put, the polarization that afflicts us doesn’t resolve easily to regions. It can, entirely too often, be seen just by crossing a county line. Colin Woodard argues that rather than fighting the Civil War, the country should have split into four separate countries at that time.[19] And maybe that would have worked then. Today, a divorce would be incomprehensibly messy.

But I still think it needs to happen. Something an allegedly ascendant left forgets is that the right has guns. Some right-wingers have been preparing to use guns in an organized way. In a lot of ways, they’re laughable and pathetic,[20] and of course they’re extremists, so much so that I avoided analyzing their articles for my dissertation. And maybe a lot of my friends on the left are indeed laughing at right-wing militia and so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorists, but they remain dangerous.[21]

We on the left need to be thinking about the reality of right-wing militia and white supremacism we live with. Do we really want to live in a country where this continues to be a threat and where gun control seems dead on arrival? Denying that a violent opposition exists won’t make it go away. But we should try to get some space. We need a divorce.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “So far, the dissertation is ‘terrific’,” September 6, 2015, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2015/09/06/so-far-dissertation-terrific
  2. [2]Alan Blinder and Tamar Lewin, “Clerk in Kentucky Chooses Jail Over Deal on Same-Sex Marriage,” New York Times, September 3, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/us/kim-davis-same-sex-marriage.html
  3. [3]Ryan Felton, “Kentucky clerk Kim Davis released from jail after judge lifts contempt ruling,” Guardian, September 8, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/08/kentucky-clerk-kim-davis-released-from-jail
  4. [4]David Edwards, “Lawyers vow Kim Davis will violate court order and halt marriage licenses after release from jail,” Raw Story, September 8, 2015, http://www.rawstory.com/2015/09/lawyers-vow-kim-davis-will-violate-court-order-and-halt-marriage-licenses-after-release-from-jail/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “A Pyrrhic victory: Kentucky, we have a problem,” Not Housebroken, September 4, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7990
  6. [6]Claire Galafaro, “Hundreds rally to support defiant clerk jailed for not issuing gay marriage licenses,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 5, 2015, http://www.startribune.com/rally-to-support-defiant-clerk-jailed-over-marriage-licenses/324773011/; Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Uneasy Truce on Gay Marriage Is Shaken by Kentucky Clerk’s Defiance,” New York Times, September 5, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/us/uneasy-truce-on-gay-marriage-is-shaken-by-kentucky-clerks-defiance.html
  7. [7]Al Mohler, “‘In this World You Will Have Trouble’ — Welcome to Rowan County,” Christian Headlines, September 4, 2015, http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/al-mohler/in-this-world-you-will-have-trouble-welcome-to-rowan-county.html
  8. [8]Adam Beam, “Kentucky clerk appeals order jailing her for not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, September 6, 2015, http://www.startribune.com/kentucky-clerk-appeals-order-putting-her-in-jail/325177911/; Associated Press, “Kim Davis vows not to back down, no resolution in sight,” Grio, September 5, 2015, http://thegrio.com/2015/09/05/kim-davis-vows-not-to-back-down-no-resolution-in-sight/; Michael Brown, “What We Learned From the Arrest of Kim Davis,” Christian Post, September 4, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-we-learned-from-the-arrest-of-kim-davis-144541/; Al Mohler, “‘In this World You Will Have Trouble’ — Welcome to Rowan County,” Christian Headlines, September 4, 2015, http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/al-mohler/in-this-world-you-will-have-trouble-welcome-to-rowan-county.html
  9. [9]Michael Brown, “What We Learned From the Arrest of Kim Davis,” Christian Post, September 4, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-we-learned-from-the-arrest-of-kim-davis-144541/; Marvin Olasky, “Kim Davis, welcome to Babylon,” World, September 5, 2015, http://www.worldmag.com/2015/09/kim_davis_welcome_to_babylon
  10. [10]Marvin Olasky, “Kim Davis, welcome to Babylon,” World, September 5, 2015, http://www.worldmag.com/2015/09/kim_davis_welcome_to_babylon
  11. [11]Ray Nothstine, “Will More Clerks Be Going to Jail? 2nd Christian Kentucky Clerk Defies Ruling to Issue Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples,” Christian Post, September 4, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/will-more-clerks-be-going-to-jail-2nd-christian-kentucky-clerk-defies-ruling-to-issue-marriage-licenses-to-gay-couples-144556/
  12. [12]Michael Brown, “What We Learned From the Arrest of Kim Davis,” Christian Post, September 4, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-we-learned-from-the-arrest-of-kim-davis-144541/
  13. [13]Suzy Khimm, “The Obama Gap,” New Republic, June 21, 2015, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122062/obama-gap-case-study-electoral-failure
  14. [14]David Sirota, “Right-wing coup: Deluded secessionists have already won,” Salon, October 9, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/10/09/right_wing_coup_deluded_secessionists_have_already_won/
  15. [15]Robert Cruickshank, “Weimar America: Four Major Ways We’re Following In Germany’s Fascist Footsteps,” Alternet, July 5, 2012, http://www.alternet.org/story/156078/weimar_america%3A_four_major_ways_we%27re_following_in_germany%27s_fascist_footsteps; Chris Hedges, “Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’?,” Truthdig, March 29, 2010, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/is_america_yearning_for_fascism_20100329/; Sara Robinson, “Is the U.S. on the Brink of Fascism?” Alternet, August 6, 2009, http://www.alternet.org/story/141819/is_the_u.s._on_the_brink_of_fascism; Alan Nasser, “The Threat of U.S. Fascism: An Historical Precedent,” Common Dreams, August 2, 2007, http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/08/02/2933; Marc Pilisuk and Jennifer Achord Rountree, “Divine Politics and Warning Signs of Fascism,” in Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008);
  16. [16]George Lakoff, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002).
  17. [17]David Benfell, “A divorce for the United States,” Not Housebroken, December 14, 2009, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=994
  18. [18]David Benfell, “What might a U.S. divorce look like?” Not Housebroken, December 14, 2009, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=998
  19. [19]Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).
  20. [20]Juan Cole, “White Terrorism,” Informed Comment, January 9, 2011, http://www.juancole.com/2011/01/white-terrorism.html; Democracy Now! “White Power USA: The Rise of Right-Wing Militias in America,” January 11, 2010, http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/11/white_power_usa_the_rise_of; Democracy Now! “Former DHS Analyst Daryl Johnson on How He Was Silenced for Warning of Far-Right Militants in U.S.,” August 9, 2012, http://www.democracynow.org/2012/8/9/former_dhs_analyst_daryl_johnson_on; Barton Gellman, “The Secret World of Extreme Militias,” Time, September 30, 2010, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2022516,00.html; David Horsey, “Cliven Bundy’s militiamen are neither terrorists nor patriots,” Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/topoftheticket/la-na-tt-cliven-bundys-militiamen-20140421-story.html; Ryan Lenz, “The federal government lost its war against Cliven Bundy,” Salon, October 19, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/10/19/the_federal_government_lost_its_war_against_cliven_bundy_partner/; Harmon Leon, “Inside the Strange, Paranoid World of the Right-Wing Oath Keepers,” Alternet, January 30, 2015, http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/inside-strange-paranoid-world-right-wing-oath-keepers; Niels Lesniewski, “Harry Reid: Bundy Ranch Supporters Are ‘Domestic Terrorists’,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, April 17, 2014, http://blogs.rollcall.com/wgdb/harry-reid-bundy-ranch-supporters-domestic-terrorists-video/; Caitlin MacNeal, “Wisconsin ‘Militia’ To Confront Dems Who Voted To Recall Walker At Polls,” Talking Points Memo, September 22, 2014, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/wisconsin-militia-intimidate-polls; Tim Murphy, “The Meltdown of the Anti-Immigration Minuteman Militia,” Mother Jones, August 4, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/minuteman-movement-border-crisis-simcox; Amie Parnes, “Home-grown terrorist attack threatens to disrupt Obama agenda,” Hill, April 20, 2013, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/295091-home-grown-terrorist-attack-threatens-to-disrupt-obama-agenda; Scott Shane, “Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11,” New York Times, June 24, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/25/us/tally-of-attacks-in-us-challenges-perceptions-of-top-terror-threat.html; Southern Poverty Law Center, “SPLC report: Bundy ranch standoff was highly coordinated, reflecting threat of larger far-right militia movement,” July 10, 2014, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-report-bundy-ranch-standoff-was-highly-coordinated-reflecting-threat-of-large; Darlene Superville and Colleen Long, “‘Anyone who comes for my guns will be shot in the face’,” Salon, May 31, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/05/31/anyone_who_comes_for_my_guns_will_be_shot_in_the_face_ap/; Julie Zaugg, “Deep In The Ozark Mountains, the KKK Is Still Alive,” Worldcrunch, September 28, 2014, http://www.worldcrunch.com/rss/culture-society/deep-in-the-ozark-mountains-the-kkk-is-still-alive/kkk-knights-community-mountains-thomas-robb/c3s17095/
  21. [21]Joe Eskenazi, “The Enforcer: Accused Bombmaker Ryan Chamberlain Helped Blow Up San Francisco Politics. And, in the Process, Himself,” SF Weekly, July 9, 2014, http://www.sfweekly.com/2014-07-09/news/ryan-chamberlain-fbi-ricin-abrin-bombmaking-gavin-newsom; Jim Forsyth, “Texas actress charged with sending ricin letters to Obama, Bloomberg,” Reuters, June 7, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/07/us-usa-obama-letter-idUSBRE95615S20130607; Emma Green, “Black Churches Are Burning Again in America,” Atlantic, June 25, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/06/arson-churchesth-carolina-georgia/396881/