Power Is the Issue, But It's Nervous
If we're stuck in the kind of analysis these questions represent, we don't understand what's going on in right-wing and, more broadly, conservative politics today. And we'll spend a lot of time trying to get them to “understand” while they work to effectively manipulate the means of power.
“Don't they understand the importance of a good education?” Wrong question.
They see education as a means of liberalizing people. “The facts,” as Rachel Maddow paraphrased Stephen Colbert, “have a liberal bias.”
So their goal is to control education at all levels by defunding it so it fails and then moving it under the control of corporate forces that have a profits-over-people agenda. Then it can train compliant workers who won't stand up for their dignity.
“Don't they understand the threats of global warming?” Wrong question.
They're doing what it takes to maximize their current profits and stock values because they're interested in the short-term control of the market that will increase their wealth no matter what might happen with the climate. They're betting on their money buying them out of any problems.
“Don't they see the dangers of income inequality?” Wrong question.
They believe that wealth is a measure of goodness, and therefore having it is a justification of all they're doing. Those below them deserve to be poorer for lack of the intelligence, gumption, and values they have.
And the wealthiest live in a different world than the lower 99%. Their problems are not those of the rest of us.
They socialize with their own. Those below them exist to promote their wealthy life-styles.
When a fraternity decides to experience homelessness by living in lean-to shelters on campus, they pretend to understand. For them it's a temporary, feel-good charity campout with the promise of good meals and economic success waiting. To be dominated by the feeling that there's no way out, there's little hope for mental and physical healthcare, that no better accommodations await, and that society is working against you, is very different.
“Don't they see that LGBT marriage doesn't hurt straight marriage?” Wrong question.
Two people of the same gender marrying challenges their dominant view of what marriage is. In their minds it's an institution with a man as the visible head that enforces traditional gender roles.
They need both a man and a woman in order to know who's the father and the mother, who's the top and the bottom, who's supposed to be the model for any children of what a real man and real man's woman should be, how they should act, how they should feel, what chores they should do. In same-gender relationships all this becomes negotiable.
In same-gender relationships, someone who acts out of their whole (un-gender-straight-jacketed) humanity will model to the children that humans don't have to be limited to the unhealthy gender roles society still enforces and straight marriage is supposed to idealize. Marriage equality challenges all of that, liberalizing people to be whole human beings who reject conservative limits.
“Don't they see that LGBT equality is inevitable with generational attitude change?” Wrong question.
Conservative economic, military, and corporate leaders could care less about maintaining LGBT discrimination nor gaining LGBT equality. They would be happy to give in on these issues as long as it takes people's minds off of their redistribution of wealth to the top.
In fact, conservative leaders are happy to include LGBT people who are content with celebrations over their social gains if they'll support the right-wing economic agenda. The national LGBT group that represents some of the wealthiest non-heterosexual people, the Human Rights Campaign, has regularly therefore found itself under fire from LGBT groups who see discrimination in broader socio-economic terms.
Conservatives use the issue to gain votes. So, to take a stand against LGBT equality is to play to a right-wing religious base to keep their loyalty. It's worked in the past among those most likely to turn out for elections.
So, it's still a useful tactic while it keeps economic conservatives in power long enough to solidify their gains economically and maintain the electorate's comfort with conservative framing of economic issues. It's neither an economic or moral issue for them – it's a way to hold on to their evangelical devotees.
“Don't they see that trickle-down economics is failing?” Wrong question.
It hasn't failed for the wealthy who set the conservative and Republican agenda. It has helped them gain even more power by taking over the Supreme Court and mainstream media.
It has produced a government dominated by the rich and enabled the institutions of the rich – corporations and business lobbying groups – to control all branches of government. It has produced politicians who must spend most of their time looking for money.
And it has produced cynicism in voters who could change things, believing there is little hope for change or any reason to vote. As Audre Lorde observed over a generation ago: "That you can't change City Hall is a rumor being spread by City Hall."
The fascinating and hopeful news is that once we stop thinking in terms of these questions, we can change realities. Once we see that this is about power and control and not "understanding" and what seems to us logical, we can join forces with the goal of taking our country back from the oligarchs.
And those who believe in people over profits have much more power than anyone expects. No one saw this more clearly than American historian Howard Zinn.
After retelling American history from the ground up in A People's History of the United States, you'd expect hopelessness. But no: “Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act....Political power, however, formidable, is more fragile than we think. (Note how nervous are those who hold it.)”