How to Deal with the American Right
Step one: Understand denial. Step two: Practice what you preach.
While I understand the social, cultural and economic reasons why the American Right is, well, like this, there’s one aspect of its behavior that hasn’t really made sense to me: why do they care so much what other people do?
We all have a stake in what our rulers do to us, and some of our decisions have reverberating impacts, but what doesn’t make sense to me is why ordinary Conservatives care so much whether an ordinary not-Conservative uses “they” pronouns or drives a Hybrid. If you believe Covid-19 is a hoax, it makes sense that being forced to stay home and wear a mask would feel needlessly repressive. What doesn’t make as much sense to me is why other people wearing masks is such a trigger. Unlike the person next to you not wearing a mask, the person next to you wearing a mask has no potential negative health impacts on anyone.
Then the answer dawned on me: the whole anti-mask-wearing thing? All the bullying and the vitriol about people’s personal choices? It’s all about repressing fear.
Everyone I know with any shred of emotional intelligence recognizes the hatred and vitriol of the Right as a reaction to intense fear. Watching any Right-wing media for more than five seconds can churn even the strongest stomach with the absolute maelstrom of fear-mongering. These narratives and images are literally traumatizing people. There’s trauma, and so there’s fear, and so there’s reactivity. In sum, there is rampant denial in an authentic attempt to cope.
Witnessing those around you wear a mask and keep their distance is a stark and repetitive reminder that there is a virus out there to fear. When you can’t handle that fear, you deny that the virus exists, and act with rage towards anyone who might trigger the fear you’re trying to repress.
Witnessing protesters march against fossil fuels and politicians make promises to cut emissions and neighbors put solar panels on their houses has the same effect. Hearing the words “Extinction Rebellion” requires reckoning with that first word: extinction. You just can’t feel safe while accepting that apocalyptic climate collapse is a thing.