On ‘Unity Over Division’

I was out early this morning, first for an oil change, and second to pick up my laundry. On my way back from the latter, there at the top of the hill on McNeilly Avenue at Pioneer Avenue was a Joe Biden campaign sign, calling for “Unity Over Division,” somewhat like the one in figure 1.

Fig. 1. Sign for sale on Etsy by Christophermanshop, listed on October 1, 2020, fair use.

I was driving so I could not enact my emotions of the moment. For me, this is beyond naïve and well into deceptive.

Some of it hearkens to Biden’s really too ignorant to be anything other than disingenuous claim that Republicans will have an epiphany and come to their senses after Donald Trump loses (if, in fact, he does lose in November) just like they never did with Barack Obama.[1] Honestly, I don’t know how anybody believes this shit and that Biden continues to peddle it even after its spectacular failure under Obama speaks to an astonishing gullibility, both that he must project onto the Amerikkkan people and that the Amerikkkan people must in fact possess. There’s really no excuse for it.

The sign also deployed the symbolism of peace symbols expressed as hand symbols emblazoned with various subaltern icons, like a rainbow flag for gays and others that I did not have time to parse. This directly contradicts Kim Messick’s terribly important description of some conservatives:

[T]he Republican Party’s extremism can be traced to its increased dependence on an electorate that is largely rural, Southern and white. These voters, who figure prominently in the Tea Party, often decline to interpret political conflict as a struggle among interest groups or a good-faith clash of opinion. Instead, they tend to identify the country as a whole with an idealized version of themselves, and to equate any dissent from their values with disloyalty by alien, “un-American” forces. This paranoid vision of politics, I argued, makes them seek out opportunities for dramatic conflict and to shun negotiation and compromise.[2]

It isn’t just Southern. Thomas Frank saw much the same thing in Kansas[3] and I sure as hell see it in Pennsylvania. But it often identifies as Southern with the Confederate flag.

What’s crucial in Messick’s description is that these tendencies of conservatism, which I group as authoritarian populist, social conservative, and paleoconservative, but especially authoritarian populist,[4] tend to see the world in hierarchically invidiously monistic terms, as “us” versus “them,” with a distinct preference for “us,” as white and patriarchal, indeed, white supremacist, conservative evangelical Protestant, heterosexist, and transphobic.

This isn’t just Trump. It’s an entire segment of the population that mustered an electoral college majority in 2016 and still stands a chance to do so in 2020. And they simply aren’t interested in “unity.” If anything, some of them may very well be preparing to fight, that is, to deploy physical violence, to impose their understanding of the country,[5] what Messick calls “an idealized version of themselves,”[6] on the rest of us, regardless of our particular subaltern affiliations. You see it when you see Trump campaign posters and even flags that say, “Fuck Your Feelings” or “Make A Liberal Cry Again.” They are actively hostile to the rest of us and they delight in brutality toward the rest of us.[7]

Now Biden, like Obama before him, would have us believe that unity is possible with these people. He can’t be that stupid. He’s lying.

  1. [1]Eric Bradner and Gregory Krieg, “Joe Biden predicts a post-Trump ‘epiphany’ for Republicans,” CNN, May 14, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/14/politics/joe-biden-republicans-trump-epiphany/index.html; Moira Donegan, “What does Biden have in common with Trump? Delusional nostalgia,” Guardian, June 21, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/21/joe-biden-trump-sexism-delusional-nostalgia; Matt Ford, “Someone Please Tell Joe Biden That Bipartisanship Is Dead,” New Republic, June 12, 2019, https://newrepublic.com/article/154183/someone-please-tell-joe-biden-bipartisanship-dead; Paul Waldman, “Joe Biden still hasn’t learned the lessons of the Obama presidency,” Washington Post, December 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/12/06/joe-biden-still-hasnt-learned-lessons-obama-presidency/
  2. [2]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  3. [3]Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “The seven tendencies of conservatism,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/the-seven-tendencies-of-conservatism/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, October 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  6. [6]Kim Messick, “Modern GOP is still the party of Dixie,” Salon, October 12, 2013, https://www.salon.com/2013/10/12/modern_gop_is_still_the_party_of_dixie/
  7. [7]David Benfell, “The Donald Trump supporters’ campaign message: Fuck Your Feelings,” Not Housebroken, August 26, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/26/the-donald-trump-supporters-campaign-message-fuck-your-feelings/; David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, October 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/