A friend pointed me to a letter to the editor published in the Badger Herald, an independent newspaper published at the University of Wisconsin , widely tweeted with such comments as “Motherfucker, what the fuck” and “how do people like this actually exist?” It argues that rape culture is, in the writer’s words, “non-existent.” I provide the link for documentation purposes only; you should most decidedly not click on it, especially if you are a woman vulnerable to rape-trauma triggers, or a woman, or, actually, if you are a human being. The letter, from a junior majoring in political science, goes on to say that the term “rape culture” merely “aggressively paints men as dangerous and as the root of evil,” and complains “women feel the need to exploit anything that may be rape for publicity.”
I’ll say no more about this “argument.” I bring it up to make a broader point about right-wing rhetoric. It is this: Have you ever noticed how conservatives who say the most controversial things imaginable consistently frame such utterances as self-evident, as simple “truth,” explaining with unshakable confidence that anyone who disagrees with them… no, scratch that. Start over:
Have you ever noticed how conservatives who say the most controversial things imaginable think no one actually disagrees with them?
They will admit that, yes, people might claim to disagree. But they will explain, if pressed, that those who do so are lying, or nuts, or utter the non-truths they utter out of a totalitarian will to power, or are poor benighted folks cowed or confused by those aforementioned totalitarians. (Which, of course, makes the person “finally” telling “the truth” a hero of bottomless courage.) Or the people who disagree are simply stupid as a tree stump. This is why “agree to disagree” is not a acceptable trope in the conservative lexicon. A genuine right-winger will be so lacking in intellectual imagination—in cognitive empathy—that imagining how anyone could sincerely reason differently from them is virtually impossible.
Here’s what that kid from Wisconsin, whom I won’t even dignify with more publicity by typing his name, writes of what he’s about to argue: “I know that people are out there on the fringe of reality who are going to criticize me for what I’m about to explain—but somebody has to explain this.” He also says, “if you put a spotlight on rape, you don’t understand the real issue.”
You could disagree. But that would place you on the fringe of reality. Someone who doesn’t understand the real issue.
Put aside what he thinks that “real issue” actually might be (he’s a sufficiently crappy writer that a coherent explanation of what that might be never arrives). Forget that we’re talking about some 20-year-old intellectual brat. Focus on the rhetoric, which I find merely a convenient iteration of a consistent right-wing style, from the grassroots all the way up to the commanding heights.
When in 1978 the right-wing former Ford administration Treasury Secretary William Simon published a book arguing—no, asserting—that liberalism was responsible for all of America’s problems, he called it, naturally, A Time for Truth. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. The book was actually full of, ahem, untruths. He wrote, of the New York fiscal crisis, “those who choose to understand it”—note the language—“could see a terrifying dress rehearsal of the state that lies ahead for this country if it continues to be guided by…the liberal political formula…. Liberal politics, endlessly glorifying its own ‘humanism,’ has in fact been annihilating the very conditions for human survival.” He went on to offer, as an example, the extravagant pensions its public employees enjoyed even though those were about half or less than those in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit and a third less than in Chicago, and lower than those provided by such blue-chip corporations as GM and Citibank.