On Punishing the Worthless

Certainly, one of the most poisonous beliefs on the planet is that some group of people who are different from yourself—the “other”—are inferior, and deserving of punishment. This happens all over the earth, but it has no rightful place in a democracy.

One of the most poisonous beliefs on the planet
is that some group of people is inferior.

When tough times happen, there is a tendency to believe someone other than ourselves must be the cause. But it’s rarely the fault of the group selected as the scapegoat. It’s never one group’s fault. Some time ago, gangs of Indonesians decided that Chinese merchants, who had lived and worked among them peacefully for generations, were to blame. They raided and destroyed Chinese businesses and killed a number of people. Hindu mobs in India have run amok and killed many Muslims, and vice versa. Christians who have lived peacefully for centuries have become victims in several places. The common fact in all these cases is that the beliefs of these angry mobs are false, and usually stupid besides. In Nigeria and Pakistan, health workers who are trying to wipe out the last vestiges of the scourge of polio have been murdered because fools have decided the vaccine was designed to make Muslim girls sterile.

The standard Republican belief is that
Those People are naturally inferior and
therefore deserving of punishment.

People who have traveled to other countries, who have actually met people from other cultures and other religions, all learn that, at base, everyone in the world is the same. In spite of wide differences in how we live, we are all human. We all love our children, and need the things that sustain life. Travelers learn about the many different practices people have developed all over the world, many of them unusual or strange to our eyes, but almost no one who has traveled will say that such-and-such a people are naturally inferior, and therefore deserving of punishment.

But Republicans do. That attitude, that a certain group of people are different and inferior, and are therefore deserving of poor treatment, is a firm belief of today’s Republicans. There is no Democratic counterpart. In several states, mostly in the south, punitive legislation intended to punish groups of people, mostly Spanish-speaking immigrants this time around, has been pushed through by Republican legislatures, but this never happens in states where Democrats are in power. There seems to be an unlimited supply of hateful Republican proposals.

The difference between conservative prejudice
and the attitude of history’s monsters
is one of degree.

The difference between this attitude and the attitude of those who would do violence is one of degree, not kind. American conservative groups have not publicly endorsed violence against any particular bunch of people, but individuals and groups among them have. They have murdered physicians, for example, and physically attacked liberal politicians and advocates for the poor and downtrodden. They have burned or trashed businesses and political offices. Good old Sheriff Joe makes midnight raids to sweep up those hardened criminal hotel maids so he can punish them without benefit of law in his desert gulag. Several far-right radicals have been arrested in recent days with large armories of weapons with which they planned to assassinate various Democrats, both politicians and ordinary citizens. The gun-nut militia people play games in the woods with loaded weapons because they believe that the black man in the White House has plans to somehow take over the world in the remaining three years of his presidency and make them slaves, or something equally idiotic. Conservative pundits and politicians alike claim that democracy and the economy are being demolished by Democrats, our liberties crushed by some inchoate evil. We live in amazing times.

There is no rational way to prove
the inferiority of any particular group.

Conservative leaders do not frequently flaunt their prejudices, although some do, on occasion. Take the famous assertion by Mitt Romney, caught when he was unaware he was being recorded, that 47% of the American population are essentially worthless “takers”. That is, every other person you see prefers to live by mooching, and therefore deserves punishment. Such terminology is Republican code for people of color. A number of other Republicans considered guiding lights have said similar things.

This attitude is no more defensible than common religious or racist bigotry. Americans come in an astonishing variety of flavors and colors. Various fevered misfits throughout our history have claimed the inferiority of one group or another, often the latest wave of immigrants from Europe or elsewhere, but of course they can’t prove it. Nor is it defensible that some group of Americans deserves to be maltreated because of their supposed natural inferiority. This anti-democratic stance cannot be defended on moral or any other grounds.


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