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Right Wing Arrogance
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History’s most famous example of ruling class arrogance is Marie Antoinette’s famous, “then let them eat cake.“  It is not clear whether Marie was so divorced from the lives of common people that she did not know that cake was even more expensive than bread or she was intentionally taunting the poor. Either way, her arrogance was soon rewarded with a trip to the guillotine. 

 

The modern day version of this arrogant ruling class is the radical Republican right.  The right has gone beyond its efforts to enact its ideological agenda and has begun lording its power and political advantage over the rest of society.  Examples are becoming legion. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial regarding the segment of the American population that makes between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars per year.  Bad enough that the Journal was completely out of touch with the fact that these people can barely make ends meet.  But they went on to decry the fact that the working poor do not pay taxes, and called them “Lucky Duckys” as a result. In Denver last April 15th one of the most elite country clubs in town held a Hard Times Tax Relief Party where members came in tattered clothes, ate chipped beef on toast and sang songs about how poor they were.  No one seemed to realize that word of the “class act” might get out. 

 

The right is not just lording its economic power, but also its political power over the rest of the country. Recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonia Scalia was accused of a major ethics breach by going on a duck hunting trip with Vice President Chaney, who happened to be, at the time, the primary defendant in a major case before Scalia’s court. But a Supreme Court Justice is answerable only to his own conscience, and Scalia refused to recuse himself. When questioned about this by members of the press, Scalia replied facetiously, “Quack, Quack.” 

 

The recent Republican National Convention was replete with symbols of arrogance.  Delegates wore “Purple Heart Band-Aids” to mock John Kerry’s war wounds. The Bush twins partied all night in Manhattan while their father sent poor kids off to die in Iraq. And of course, Arnold. Arnold, the epitome of over-hyped, artificial masculinity calls all of his opponents “girlie men.” 

 

Why do they do it?  Because they can.  No one can stop them, and the whole point is to demonstrate that no one can stop them.  It is the exercise of power for the pure joy of power.  And the more outrageous the exercise, the larger the joy.

 

The problem is that arrogance contains the seeds of its own downfall.  There is a huge difference between exercising power in order to enact an ideology and the exercise of power for its own sake.  In America, at least, whether you agree with a political ideology or not, the good-faith exercise of power to enact that ideology has a moral legitimacy.  The exercise of power for its own sake has no moral legitimacy.  Moreover, arrogance motivates the opposition like nothing else.  It raises emotions, prompts response and promotes sacrifice. In addition, those who exercise power for its own sake break the precious civil compact that has made America so special.  Our ability to interact civilly with those of other beliefs has made America the shining city on the hill.  Those who break that compact are fundamentally un-American.

 

Perhaps most importantly, the arrogant use of power creates a heroic story line for the underdog.  Americans love movies where the underdog struggles against, and finally triumphs over, an arrogant villain.  There is a basic scene in American westerns where the black hats have the good guy outnumbered. They taunt, laugh and shoot at his feet (“I said ‘dance” partner”) For much of the past thirty years the “black hats,” as portrayed in movies like Dirty Harry, have often been bloodless, effete government bureaucrats.  Today, however, you can almost hear the black hats saying, “Quack quack” and calling the good guy a girlie man (“Dance, you lucky ducky, dance”).

 

The result is imminent downfall.  Stripped of its ideological rationale, its moral legitimacy and its mythic storyline, the arrogant class soon falls.  The black hats lose the shoot-out or the queen is beheaded. Arrogance is a tasty temptation for the American right, but just like for others throughout history, it is a sure sign of impending downfall.  

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