Depths That Cannot Be Plumbed


Sympathy for the Analyst: Kudos for effort Paul Campos puts into exploring the depths of right-wing derangement in this short article for the Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog. Campos focuses on the manifestation of the “sociopathic style” of right-wing politics in extreme libertarian individualism of conservative politicians and the “paranoid style” in American politics that Richard Hofstadter identified in the 60’s as going back to the Know-Nothing anti-immigration movement of the 1840’s. Much of Campos’ position is articulated below:

This is the sociopathic style in action. In contemporary conservative thought, anti-social personality disorder is, via the magic of ideology, transformed into an all-purpose political doctrine. In its cruder forms, as illustrated 24/7 by the workings of the nation’s massive right wing mass media propaganda complex, this ideology manifests itself as a kind of oppositional defiant disorder, as millions of chronological adults are encouraged to behave like cranky toddlers, whenever they are asked by the Liberal Conspiracy to perform the political equivalent of picking up their toys and going to bed on time.

In the tonier regions of the right wing ideological bubble, emotionally stunted sociopathy is tarted up constantly with ponderous (and highly selective) citations to Burke, Hayek, Orwell, Milton Friedman etc. But in both the Limbaughverse or the Buckleyverse the idea is the same: the invocation of the word “freedom” is supposed to cut off all higher cognitive function, just as surely as the word “God” is supposed to do in some adjacent ideological zip codes.

But Campos doesn’t quite get there and it’s because he focuses so much on conservative politicians and intellectuals as opposed to the everyday white conservatives who form the popular backbone of conservative politics. Far from being individual, their “oppositional defiance” is grounded in the GROUP LIFE of small rural towns, white evangelical churches, facebook chat groups and conspiracy theory and entails a large-scale willingness to SACRIFICE their spouses, children, parents, friends, and co-workers to Covid in the name of rejecting the larger society. In their visit to tiny Carter County, MO, CNN found a community engulfed in Covid infection (32% positivity rate) with gossip concerning who has Covid and how sick they were on everybody’s lips but people still seeing those who get the vaccine as traitors to the community, conservatism, and Donald Trump.

Individualism is the dominant ideology among white Americans in general, but the extreme individualism of rural anti-vaxxers is an element of an intense group life in solidarity against the larger American society. And rural white conservatives are willing to sacrifice everything that’s closest to them to maintain that solidarity.

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