The story of host Jesse Watters courting his current wife Emma DiGiovine in 2018 while she was an intern for his show Watters World at Fox News reminds me a lot of my town’s Kim Davis of refusing to grant licenses to gay couples, having a child by her third husband five months after her divorce from her first husband, and then making her second husband into her fourth husband fame.
The basics of Watters’ story were that he was married to his first wife Noelle (Inguagiato) Watters and was the father of twins, he started courting Emma DiGiovine (now Emma DiGiovine Watters) by letting the air out of all her tires and then offering her a ride. As soon as their affair started, the lovely couple reported their romance to the Fox News brass and they reassigned DiGiovine (now Watters) to ghoul Laura Ingraham and her show “The Ingraham Angle.”
Apparently Noelle Watters was neither amused nor inspired by the love story of her husband and his husband’s mistress and immediately filed for divorce. And who can blame her.
But my main point is that guys like Watters are part of what weak Republicans, independents, and moderates like about the Republican Party. There’s a kind of instinct to see Republicans as the “(white) boys will be boys” party and to view these kinds of frat boy stunts as “funny,” “brave,” “harmless,” and above all entertaining. The presence of guys like Watters gives the Republican Party and conservative movement cover for the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement, the religious right, and MAGA. It’s like “Republicans can’t be all bad” as long as they’re associated with irreverent and fun guys like Jesse Watters.
In various ways, conservative activists call for a return to the 50’s, but figures like Jesse Watters provide a real connection to the bad boy white male entitlement of the time.
In “Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. DuBois wrote of black people experiencing an unanswered question of “how does it feel to be a problem” as hanging between them and “the world.” Whether that question continues to plague black people or not, I’ve long since started thinking more of white conservatives in these terms–as a problem, burden, danger, or (harking back to Gunnar Myrdal) a dilemma to American society. My view is that reveling in that sense of being ominous underlies Lauren Boebert’s gun-toting Christmas message. There’s too many white conservatives to ignore and too many white conservatives to have any sense of ease about our society.
A few remarks on the deeper divide in American life. The conventional wisdom is that the denizens of Trump World view themselves as real Americans and white liberals, Black people, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Asian-Americans, LGBT folks, and disabled people as the “others” of not really real America. Certainly, Rep. Jim Jordan (Trump-OH) provided an example of that yesterday when he tweeted that “Real America is done with #COVID19. God Bless” after seeing last weekends packed football stadiums.
But the conventional wisdom on Trumpism doesn’t cover much of the complexity over who is or is not a “Real American.” I think an underlying question for both Trumpers and the multi-racial socially liberal constituencies associated with mainstream American culture is whether white conservatives are still “really” a part of American society themselves and there’s a big “NO” coalescing on both sides of the divide. The Reagan conservatism of small government, social conservatism, and national defense is barely serving as a polite mask for the Republican Party as the GOP core re-orients around a culture of conspiracy theorizing, the religious right, and gun culture.
For Missouri Republican Josh Hawley conservatives are already separate and opposed to the larger society. Hawley claimed in the New York Post that “for some time, conservatives, recognizing that we’re now the counterculture, indulged in the delusion that we could opt out of all this.” And Hawley is right. Conservatives have not been an integral part of mainstream American culture “for some time” and began to array themselves against the dominant culture as the mainstream became more multicultural and socially liberal. Birtherism was perhaps the first big example of right-wing counter-cultural opposition followed up by Trump’s 2016 campaign, anti-trans activism and the growth of an internet conspiracy network. All this built on the existing conservative culture of Fox News, evangelical churches, and anti-abortion activism to transform conservative “counter-culture” into oppositional activism and insurrection against the dominant American culture.
Mainstream American culture has also been changing dramatically. With Black Lives Matter, Me- Too, and anti-Trump activism built up from popular culture, public educational institutions, and the sciences, mainstream American culture has internalized civil rights tradition, normalized climate activism, and brought much more black, LGBT, Native, and immigrant influence into the workings of the Democratic Party, mainstream media, and popular culture. While white supremacy is far from finished in mainstream culture, the dominant idea of American citizenship is now identified with a rejection of racism, woman-hating, nativism, Christian conservatism, and the other strands of culture and politics identified with conservatism. Likewise, Trump’s election focused mainstream America to focus much more on partisan warfare with conservatives and the Trump administration, and that partisan warfare has continued into the current conflicts over conservative vaccine refusal, police murders, and everyday bigotry involving conservatives.
Real questions about whether conservatives are part of society and thus citizens in the full sense of the word, have popped up on twitter. For Prof. Elizabeth Cohen of Princeton writing on twitter under “Dr. Elizabeth Sacha Baroness Cohen,” conservative vaccine refusal calls into question their commitment both as human beings who “can’t be bothered to keep their own neighbors out of the ICU” and their status as people who don’t think of themselves as “part of a society.” Cohen portrays vaccine refusal in terms of a rejection of any society, but it is white conservatives who refuse to be part of their own society or concern themselves with their own children, parents, and extended family as well as teachers, the children at public schools, etc. One question that comes up here is the extent to which conservatives are willing to sacrifice their own loved ones to support their principled rejection of “American society” and the cultural mainstream.
Mainstream Americans also raise questions concerning the societal status of conservatives in relation to social bigotry. For “Michael Mc,” this is the key issue in relation to a video of “Jill’s” bigoted behavior toward Mexican restaurant workers at a Mexican restaurant in Parksburg, West Virginia.
After showing the video of Jill’s behavior, Michael Mc slowly intones that “we have no place for you in our society.” In pronouncing this anathema on “Jill” of Parksburg, Michael Mc is asserting that the U.S. is a multiracial, socially liberal society in which the bigotry of Jill has no place. My own politics are much the same as Michael Mc’s but it would now be best to see the United States in larger terms as a society that encompasses a mile-wide division between a dominant multiracial, socially liberal majority and a white conservative minority which has dramatically different institutions, principles, and values, and opposes the larger society at every point—i.e. “Grand Canyon America”