“Tell me what you think makes a person right wing extremist.”
That’s the question posed to me on a personal tweet I received yesterday from someone names Silly Girl. Silly Girl describes herself as “pro-life” and a “Tea Party Patriot.”
Responding to Silly Girl’s question takes far more characters than Twitter’s limit. Twitter is great for sloganeering and enticing followers to link elsewhere. But it’s not a great venue for deep thought. So here’s my answer, for Silly Girl and the rest of the world:
There are currently two kinds of extreme right-wingers currently participating in the American marketplace of ideas:
- Economic-political (econ-pol) extremists
Interesting enough, both types of right-wing extremist base their ideas on a faith that they believe overrides the lessons of science, history and rational thinking:
Social extremists have faith in religion, primarily Christianity, and refuse to believe the truth of science.
- Econ-pol extremists have faith in the unencumbered free market to solve all problems and sort out wealth in a fair manner, even though both history and economic analysis reveal that the free market often works against the best interests of society.
By contrast, social and econ-pol extremists differ in their approach to social control. This difference is striking when we consider that many people such as Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and John Boehner are both social and economic conservatives:
Social extremists want to control actions of individuals, e.g., preventing abortions, birth control and gay marriage and forcing religion into the school and other public places.
- Econ-pol extremists want to take all limitations from the actions of institutions, specifically businesses, so they can operate free of constraints such as labor, safety and environmental laws and regulations.
We can see this difference in the approach to control when we take a look at the major positions held by the two types of right-wing extremist. I think I have them all, but
if I missed some of the major ideas of right-wing extremists, please let me know.
Basic beliefs of social right-wing extremists:
Global warming is not occurring and the theory
of evolution is wrong
- Religion should be taught in the schools
- Abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and birth control are wrong
- Homosexuality is a sin and a failing, not a natural occurrence in the population
- It’s okay to discriminate against practitioners of Islam and/or religions other than Christianity
Basic beliefs of econ-pol right-wing extremists:
There should be no constraints on businesses, including constraints to promote fair wages, workplace or consumer safety or a
- The private sector can solve all problems and deliver all goods and services better than government
- Private institutions should replace public ones, e.g. schools, roads, prisons and military services
- Labor organizations should be made illegal and there should be no minimum wage or other employer mandates to compensate employees fairly
- Taxes should not only be low but also regressive, meaning that the richer one is the less one’s relative tax burden should be
- The military should engage to protect the private interests of large American multinational companies
I label as extremists those who subscribe to either of these sets of beliefs for several reasons:
To believe in all of these ideas (as opposed to just one or two) defines extremism on the right.
- Unwillingness to compromise characterizes both types of extremists, and is a trait associated with extremists of all varieties.
- For the most part, these ideas are rejected by mainstream America. Most Americans support keeping abortion legal, although sometimes with limits. Most Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy. People overwhelmingly support birth control, the minimum wage and safety regulations.
- Those views of the extreme rightwing that large amounts of other Americans share usuualy firmly contradict all scientific evidence, such as not believing in Darwinism or doubting the occurrence of global warming. Failure to believe truth is a sure sign of extremism, all else notwithstanding.
These two kinds of extremists really have nothing in common, except that they both tend to support views formed before the 18th century and both must exercise a great deal of faith to uphold their beliefs in light of sometimes overwhelming contradictory evidence. Social extremists tend to be less educated and live in the South or in rural communities; while some have money, as a group they are not wealthy. Econ-pol extremists tend to be wealthier than the average American and are not as defined by geography. In a sense, two unrelated groups have formed a partnership out of political convenience.
What is so odd about the current coalition of social and economic-political right-wingers constituting the Republican Party is that the policies of the econ-pols hurt a large majority of the social true believers, many of whom are poor, near poor or in the struggling, some would say drowning, middle class. And yet the social right-wingers continue to support the econ-pols. It’s a deal with the devil that is keeping much of America poor and driving much of middle class America towards poverty.