Saturday, April 16, 2022

MAGA And Social Isolation

It is easy to think of MAGA in terms of everything it hates, the many things it strikes out against. It's even easy to slip into the habit of making fun of it. Sure, MAGA, go ahead and call for a boycott of Disney, because I'm sure that will totally bring that gazillion-dollar multinational conglomerate to its knees. 

But I'd suggest we view the MAGA anti-ness through a different frame, another way of seeing what's going on and why even a call for boycotting Disney is a bad sign for the country.

The MAGA enemies list is also a Do Not Trust list, a list of people and things that good MAGAs should not talk to, listen to, engage with.

Do not trust Disney.

Do not trust Democrats.

Do not trust public schools or public school teachers.

Do not trust the news media.

Do not trust maskers and vaccination advocates.

Do not trust non-Christians.

Do not trust books. 

Do not trust any non-MAGA entertainment media.

Do not trust any sort of democratic process.

Do not trust anyone who is not a True American.

And if we have any other individuals we need to add to the list, we'll just tag them as "communist" or "pedophile." 

Taken all together, this is not simply the behavior of a movement that wants to reshape society. It also bears a striking resemblance to the behavior of a controlling, abusive partner, whose tactics begin with cutting the target off from all their other family and friends, repeatedly driving home the message, "You must only trust me, only talk to me, only get your directions from me." 

Much of this can be created by amplifying legitimate concerns that people already have. Parents have always been, and will always be, apprehensive at the prospect of handing their beloved children over to someone else's care. Elections always seem like a crapshoot, a foregone conclusion beyond the control of individual voters. And our country has always fostered a strong thread of anti-egghead distrust of folks with too much book learnin' (who in turn do themselves no favors by hiding behind layers of opaque argle bargle). 

But it takes an extra effort to ramp this up, to deliberately attack people's trust in the institutions and relationships that help society function.

The implications of such a concerted effort to bar people from all these parts of society are many. One is that the people raising, amplifying, and even manufacturing the problems (CRT! Commies! Fake news!) are not looking for solutions. Anything that sows more chaos and distrust serves their purpose, but they have zero interest in solving the problems in any kind of positive or healing fashion. Trying to engage in discussion is hopeless, because the discussion isn't really about whatever topic is being discussed, but about the subtext which is "These People can't be trusted!!" 

MAGA is not conservatism. It pretends to be, mostly by holding up an imaginary vision of society from 60 years ago as its ideal, but most principles of conservatism are nowhere to be found. Individual responsibility? No, individual power. Small government? No--huge government, but only in our hands. 

Trump didn't create MAGA--he just named it and harnessed it. But these movements carry their own cancer wired into their dna. In an authoritarian movement, power doesn't come from principle, but from an individual who ascends to a cult of personality, and they only way to advance in such a system is by pulling down whoever stands in the way of your own elevation. Watch the GOP primaries where candidates try to out-MAGA each other, attacking each other far more viciously than any Democrat has the guts to do. When Trump finally dies, the unholy hell that will be unleashed in the scramble to take his place will be incredible to behold.

In the meantime, schools have to somehow function in a world in which many of the students and parents they serve have been taught not to trust them, not to listen to them, and to always assume the worst of them. This is not a fun world to work in. The hope is that trust is best built person to person. People don't personally know their tv anchor, the authors of books in their library--but they know their child's teacher. 

It's tempting to approach MAGAs as dangerous, antagonistic buffoons, but it may be more accurate to approach them as folks who have been kept locked in the basement and told that everyone outside of their household is dangerous (though mixed in with them, the same people who kept them locked in that basement). Maybe "forgive them, for they know not what they do" may be a bridge too far, but it's worth a thought.

MAGA keeps a lot of people scared, convinces a lot of people that there's a big, dangerous crowd that they dare not buck. MAGA's ranks have been swelled by non-believers who aren't ready to stand up yet, and things like the Disney boycott call are in part for their benefit. Listen only to MAGA, and pay no attention to those Other Voices suggesting that this (whatever it is this week) is wrong, scary, bad and even nuts. If you can't make them loyal, at least keep them isolated, because if I keep you locked in the basement, I don't really have to convince you to agree with me. 

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