This last week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie and his staff got caught being mean, vindictive bullies. It seems that a certain Democrat mayor, Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, had the gaul to endorse the Democrat candidate for governor, instead of falling in line with the powers-that-be and supporting incumbent Governor Christie. Why this was such a shock has not been properly explained, but it appears that it absolutely infuriated Christie’s staff to the point where Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, sent an email to David Wildstein, a high-ranking Port authority, and a Christie appointee–one of his toady/cronies–saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”, to which Wildstein replied, “Got it”. These two simple sentences set off 5 days of epic traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, the nation’s busiest bridge, and inconvenienced the New Jersey electorate in ways that can only be described as extreme. I’m currently watching msnbc’s Al Sharpton show, and the Reverend is opening up a can of whoop-ass on the governor and his toadies.
Rather than fess up, the Christie cronies put forth the outright lie that there had been a “traffic study” that had caused the closure of two out of three access lanes from Fort Lee. Bill Baroni, Wildstein’s boss and yet another Christie appointee, even went so far as to put together an elaborate, but totally fake print and video presentation, and then did some Academy Award-worthy acting to explain this mysterious but now very well diagrammed and Powerpointed fake traffic study to the port commission, who was alarmed and concerned about the GW Bridge being brought to a screeching halt. That’s right. They drew out the bald-faced lie even further and produced an actual presentation to sell the lie to the port commission. This was all so very calculated, and all possibilities of innocence amongst the whole dirty lot of them had flown the coop long ago.
Before news of the incriminating emails broke, Governor Christie insisted that the whole brouhaha was “not that big of a deal”, and that there was no political motivation behind the closures. He also advanced the idea of the utterly fake traffic study. Meanwhile, also before the emails broke, Wildstein and Baroni all of a sudden resigned, claiming that their dual resignation out of nowhere had been planned long before the bridge problem. Rrright. Again, Christie and his staff were obfuscating and refusing to fess up, covering their tracks and grasping for plausible deniability. No matter that this sort of shenanigans was exactly the sort of deeply corrupt politicking that should never be happening, especially in the highest office of the state.
Furthermore, the very tone of the email is deeply suspect. Kelly and Wildstein engage in a crony-tinged shorthand that suggests a profound familiarity with engineering Nixonian dirty tricks. Kelly merely has to write the one short sentence about “traffic problems” at Fort Lee, yet Wildstein replies, “Got it”, without any further questions, as though the very culture of Christie’s staff was well-schooled in this type of scheming. It also suggests that they’d all been airing out their dislike of Mayor Sokolich with each other, and had already thought about using their significant insider access within the port commission to do some dirty deeds with the Fort Lee on-ramp lanes.
It wasn’t until news of the incriminating emails broke that Christie and his staff were forced to admit that indeed, this had been a nasty little political vendetta all along. Now it was just a matter of sussing out who knew what and when they knew it. The fact that Wildstein and Baroni, part of the Christie cronies, were led to resign well before Christie and his staff were forced to admit their involvement suggests that the inner circle damned well knew about what was going on, and were frantically trying to clean house before all hell broke loose. Never mind that they’d engineered massive amounts of squandered economic activity due to the logistical interruptions on the GW, and actual public safety was seriously endangered due to the inability for emergency responders to navigate the epic, all-day traffic jams. What was more important to the Christie cronies was that they not get caught, and they were more than willing to lie and misdirect even more.
Christie’s current stance is to flat out deny his personal involvement, claiming he didn’t know what his staff was doing–and to act the part of the put-upon victim. Never mind the fact that Christie is well-known to be a micromanager of the highest degree; a highly egotistical narcissist who normally cannot bear to delegate or empower his underlings. Christie’s staff has historically been known to be steeped in the kind of bullying, criminal culture that can handily produce dirty tricks and vendettas. A commentator on Al Sharpton just classified the Christie staff style as “gratuitous meanness”–perfect! Moreover they are, fundamentally, yes-men, not given to a whit of independent thought, or criticizing or opposing their big boss man. If nothing else, Christie is a top-down style manager. Meanwhile, the Senate is calling for a federal review, and it has been determined that several laws were broken. If found culpable, Christie faces impeachment.
This whole scenario, down to the impeachment denouement, mirrors the Republican party’s most embarrassing scandal, the Nixon-Watergate affair. We now know almost everything there is to know about this unfortunate stain on the American presidential record. This is due to the fact that Nixon himself was obsessed with having utter and absolute control over his staff, and he secretly taped the goings-on in his offices. The end-game of the impeachment is widely known. What always piqued my interest above and beyond the impeachment itself was the sheer pettiness and nastiness one hears on those tapes. The language used, tone of voice and emotions conveyed in spooling out the Watergate events is that of an angry, spiteful bully. Nixon comes across as a small, mean man obsessed with keeping his reign of power and absolute control over those around him, the Republican party, and ultimately, the entire country. I couldn’t help but to be reminded of the arch-typical James Bond villain who concocts a ludicrously complex plan in order to take over The Whole World.
The actual Watergate crimes were also shifty and underhanded, reminiscent of the worst kind of frat-boy hi-jinx played out on a presidential stage. The Committee to Re-Elect the President, with one of the all-time great acronyms of CREEP, counted as its members the highest ranking members of Nixon’s staff, and CREEP was by far Nixon’s highest priority and received the most actual working attention in relation to everything else assigned to the occupant of the Oval Office. Securing re-election at all costs was the primary goal and driving force behind almost everything that Nixon did. The fact that Nixon actually did later achieve some impressive deeds like winding down the Vietnam War, and opening up relations with China, is almost entirely overshadowed by the misdeeds of Watergate. Nixon’s staff included some rough trade; really nasty pieces of work in G. Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman, whom remind me of grown-up frat-boys of the worst sort: entitled, privileged bully-boys used to getting their way, who see themselves and their political advancement as entirely above the rules and morals of “the rest of us”.
The Nixonian office culture has quite a bit in common with Christie’s, and it is this culture that has come to define the American conservative personality. Authoritarian, venal, righteously moralistic, lacking in empathy, and bullying are all key words that aptly describe the driving forces behind the Neo-Con/Teapublican/GOP brand of the Republican conservative personality. The authoritarian personality is obsessed with power and control, and lives to enforce a very rigid set of rules. It is no coincidence that Repubs lean heavily towards Christian Fundamentalism, favoring their god’s coldly paternalistic aspects, and the conviction that only their path is the righteous one; all others are inferior, and defacto, dehumanized. The endless sets of archaic and outdated rules set forth in the Bible are stubbornly defended as the one and only way, and the authoritarian takes great joy in meting out and inflicting punishment over those who will not completely comply with these inflexible decrees.
The conservative personality is also totally convinced that his moral stance is the only correct one, and sees the world in overly simplistic black/white, wrong/right terms. They long for a mythical earlier “more simple” time when everybody followed their rules without question. Currently, this era is embodied as the American 1950s. The following cultural revolution of the 1960s was deeply distressing to the conservative personality, especially the overturning of women’s roles, racial lines, sexual mores, and the notion that the paternal head of the nuclear family receded in importance to the idea of the distributed power of group harmony. All of these largely communal awakenings worked against the authoritarian power base that lauded the isolation and sterility of the father-headed nuclear family, with strict conformist rules, clear and distinct hierarchies, and a near-obsession with doling out punishments.
The law-and-order stance that really came into its own during the early 1980s, with the launching of the War on Drugs as well as the 3-strikes law is classic Repub conservative personality. So is the tendency to be extremely hawkish, with a kind of worship for the military way, and its ability to lord power and the American way over the rest of the world with our reputation as the World’s Policeman. Conveniently, they are able to set aside their Tea Party anti-government funding principles when it comes to lavishing the Military Industrial Complex with almost unlimited funding that is funneled away with shocking levels of corruption to conservative-friendly corporations like Halliburton, Blackwater (now re-named with the confusing moniker of Academi), and any number of companies owned by the Koch brothers.
Compassion and empathy are notably lacking in the Repub conservative personality, especially when it comes to the poor. The supposedly Christian notion that society should take care of its poor and needy is entirely discounted. Rather, the conservative personality has conveniently concocted the antiquated Calvinistic idea that the poor somehow deserve any hardships that may come their way, as they are not “favored by god”. But the conservative personality doesn’t just stop there, they seem to have an unsettlingly strong hatred of the poor and needy. They delight in such measures as cutting already meager welfare and unemployment benefits and deflating the Affordable Care Act, now that almost every single Republican governor, with a mean and petty glee, has refused federal funding to increase Medicaid eligibility to include poor and childless adults. Conservatives have sadly succeeded in rewiring American opinions on getting government-based assistance to those in need. Just mentioning “welfare” now brings up visions of the phantom “welfare queen”, a meme too successfully spread by conservatives who knew better that in reality, the level of welfare fraud is around 2% for TANF and less than 1% for SNAP.
That old conservative favorite, the Christian Bible, rails mightily against venal sins, with countless stories about how god smote a rich man, and Jesus begged his wealthy followers to donate their wealth to those in need–blatant class warfare, if you will. Venal sins are perhaps the most insidious of all, for the venal sinner prizes enriching himself with material and monetary goods, a particularly hollow, shallow goal, while intentionally hurting and/or dominating others to achieve his wealth. You cannot ascribe the venal sin to a crime of passion; it is crafty and underhanded, and entirely intentional. The Repub conservative personality has scored a major coup by transcribing the idea of the American Dream to mean getting ridiculously wealthy by any means possible, with absolutely no sense of the common good, or of community with his fellow citizens. The “greed is good” mantra has been adopted by a shocking number of the evangelical mega-churches who teach their parishioners that acquiring wealth and material goods mean that you are living a life favored by god. Gone is the sense of charity and good works that used to figure largely in the Christian mindset.
Lastly, the Repub conservative personality insists upon the strictest conformity. Conformity of religion–Christian definitely, Protestant and Evangelical preferably, Fundamentalist ideally. Conformity of personality; amazingly, there are still children’s therapists and private military-style reform schools to force little Johnny to look like, dress like and act like their hopelessly old-fashioned 1950s-style ideal of an “upstanding young man”. Woe to the child of the Repub conservative who dares to assert himself with any kind of rebellion; there is an entire shady industry of erstwhile and often Christian “therapists” and “educators” to shout down the merest hint of nonconformity.
Conformity of political views. Unlike the often chaotic free-thinkers of the American progressive movement, the conservative political leaders have done a frighteningly efficient job of keeping their party in line. The last 20 or so years have seen a massive shift to the far right, and those few remaining Republican moderates have been drummed out of office by their own party. To be a member of the Repub conservative political movement means subscribing 100% to the ideals of anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-feminism, anti-separation of church and state, and pro-gun. This sort of unquestioning marching in lockstep makes the conservative political message efficiently uniform. You see this in how amazingly quickly the Fox News/Republican Party talking heads all spout the exact same talking points at every political development, whereas their opposites will often come across as comparatively disorganized when they dare to voice divergent, nuanced rebuttals.
Perhaps the most insidious, conformity of sexuality. The American conservative, true to the practices of his organized religion, is deeply uncomfortable with sexuality in general. The rest of the world is incredulous that America, a first-world country with a high standard of living, actually promotes abstinence in sexual education in its public schools, thanks to the prudish influence of local school boards colonized with far-right Christian conservatives. In the last presidential election cycle, there was a bewildering lack of outcry at Senator Rick Santorum’s actual presidential platform that called for the federal government to delegitimize birth control. He actually put forth his belief that sexual intercourse should be for procreation only, and thus we had the launching of the conservative party sport of slut shaming birth control users. Santorum had a creepy and almost childish aversion for sexuality in general; the man must have had quite the interesting marriage. You could just imagine him in bed, ready for some of that hot procreational sex, looking at his wife’s naked body and thinking, “Ewww“.
As amusing as that may be, Santorum’s attitude towards homosexuality is positively chilling in its level of hatred and contempt, and so goes the Repub conservative’s vicious damning of any sexuality other than monogamous heterosexuality. LGBTQ rights is the last civil rights struggle to pass muster in this country, and the Repub conservative is fighting tooth and nail against the increasingly powerful tide of progress. Now that it’s unacceptable to espouse racist views, conservatives have put all of their venom and acrimony about the modern world into demonizing gays. (I’ll use “gay” as shorthand for LGBTQ for ease of syntax.) Groups like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family continue to mount the most toxic and vulgar “protests” that, had they been aimed at any racial or religious group, would receive the across-the-board disapproval they deserve. But the right wing has let the primitive and scary Old Testament viewpoints flourish, and you hear more baseless, truly evil hatred of gays coming out of conservative mouths than is to be believed because they think it’s OK.
Never mind the fact that a steady parade of deeply-closeted, vocally self-hating religious leaders and wide-stance congressman are regularly outed under the most embarrassing circumstances. I have to admit that I do get a giggle out of the latest rent-boy tale of a meth and anal sex-loaded weekend in a seedy motel room whilst the wifey and kiddies wonder why Daddy comes back from his “church retreats” so tired and grumpy. Once the media gets a hold of the story and it’s impossible to sweep it under the carpet, we get the tearful confession on the dais with the stiffly smiling wifey, and the promise to go to “gay rehab” to be schooled in the magic of becoming “ungay”. Thankfully, with each younger generation comes the acceptance of LGBTQ lifestyles, and once enough of those stick-up-the-arse haters die off, it won’t even be an issue.
This is admittedly an overly long and rambling examination of what it means to be a conservative in America today. However, I remain fascinated with exactly what makes them tick. With every breaking scandal like the Christie bridge debacle, I see once again the roots of this kind of misconduct, and the world in which this kind of behavior is permissible. It is overwhelmingly an authoritarian world in which its adherents are compelled to march in lockstep, and “outsider” values aren’t just opposed, they are demonized, often using the Christian Bible as “proof”. Progressives are so used to being tolerant of other viewpoints that they don’t realize how fundamentally intolerant their opposite number is, and so knuckle-dragging anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-immigrant and anti-nonconformist values continue to worm their way into the American mainstream. Instead of dancing around the complicated details of civil law and impeachment procedure, I wish we could just shout out, “He’s an asshole bag of douche“, and just be done with Chris Christie, and all of the rest of the Asshat Brigade with irreparable Repub conservative personalities.