On Conservatism and the Persecuted Class
April 15, 2023
Have you ever wondered why American conservatives always seem eager to make life hell for one group or another? Why are they so obsessed with persecuting trans folk today, who make up a tiny minority of the population and cause basically none of society’s problems? I offer a simple hypothesis: American conservatism requires some persecuted class to be defined to justify the ideology’s existence. Without someone to step on, conservatism simply ceases to be. Without something to expunge, there is, by definition, nothing to conserve.
American conservatism is strongly correlated with a hierarchical view of the world. A good way to feed a conservative’s need to feel like they’re on top, then, is to classify someone else as an inferior. A persecuted out-group can be agreed upon to take the blame for society’s ills, so that the in-group can declare themselves blameless. And because the very notion of a blameless class of superiors is ridiculous on its face, a new class of persecuted people must be found whenever a previous group is used up, lest the superior class is left with only themselves to blame.
Not too long ago, the task of defining a class of inferiors was straightforward: whites were superior, and nonwhites bore all the blame. But these days, overt racism has become mostly unacceptable even among conservatives, so a search for non-race-based persecution must be done. Conservative pundits continually workshop new candidate groups to persecute and poll their audience to see what sticks. When they find a new slur that particularly resonates with their base, they run with it.
Hippies. Communists. Gay men with AIDS. “Illegal immigrants”. Middle-eastern “terrorists”. Vaccine proponents. Abortion service providers. Each of these populations have had their turn bearing the wrath of conservatives. You can probably name a dozen other slurs and attempts at persecution that had various levels of success (Politically Correct, woke, BLM rioters, Kung Flu, treehuggers…). With each group, persecution is designed to be senseless and maximal, because if you convince yourself that a group of people brings nothing but ill to your community, then eradication of that population is not only morally acceptable, but necessary.
This tendency to divide society into righteous and evil, of course, is exploited by the major backers of American conservatism—wealthy capitalists—for their own benefit. In the words of LBJ: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” This is why popular resistance to conservative tendencies is vital: moneyed interests will continue to fund and fan the flames of persecution, because it’s profitable. Since our representatives are bought by the same moneyed interests to varying degrees, a loud and consistent voice of the people is probably the best way to fight this machine today.
There may be some of us who think they’re far enough up the food chain (or “normal” enough, whatever that means) to be spared persecution, but the conservative spotlight of persecution is essentially random in nature. Any of us might be next. At some point, conservatives will tire of torturing trans folk, and they will predictably look for another group to scapegoat, and you might find yourself caught up in some caricature of a demographic that will now get to live their hell on earth. On average, none of us is wealthy enough to be confident of escaping this stochastic terror.
This is why I think it’s so important to stand together with whomever is unfortunate enough to currently bear the glare of the spotlight, because persecution of any of us is only predule to the eventual persecution of all of us. Today, that means publicly supporting, among others, trans folk, people who have lost access to abortions, drag performers—all of whom currently have the spotlight on them—and lending them our voices and political capital. Tomorrow, it may mean someone else gets to defend your right to exist.
None of this is meant to minimize the pain experienced by any particular persecuted group, nor do I mean to imply that every group’s degree of suffering is the same. Today, trans folk are in danger of being on the receiving end of a literal genocide in many places; this is a situation that not all persecuted classes have had the misfortune of finding themselves in. Neither do I think that the current state of affairs is inevitable. If anything, the conservative movement’s overt support for domestic authoritarianism and their increasingly vicious attacks on vulnerable people is indicative of a slow realization that they are a dying species, and that they can only cling on to power through coercive means.
What I hope you take away from reading this is an understanding that there is a systemic dysfunction inherent in the conservative movement that constantly requires the existence of persecution, and that there are people who are deliberately fanning this flame for profit. This knowledge should inspire us to always stand together with those who are suffering, in resistance and solidarity.