May 10, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The rightwing is now getting respectable white people to believe that other respectable white people are dangerous

How long will that work?


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So much depends on the opinions of respectable white people. As long as they are tolerant of fascism while ambivalent toward liberal democracy, the Republicans will always have the advantage above and beyond the structural advantages they already enjoy. What is it going to take?

What is it going to take for respectable white people to understand that the Republicans, their paramilitaries and their justices on the Supreme Court are ensnaring whole classes of people in expanding rings of social control? It began with immigrants. It’s going to end with – I don’t know. But when states enact laws regulating marital sex, respectable white people will ask: “How the fuck did this happen?”

The moment they stop going along is the moment they stop giving the rightwing the benefit of the doubt. The best part? It’s easy.

I’m thinking specifically of their reaction to a handful of protests over the weekend outside the homes of Republican justices of the Supreme Court. Last week, a draft opinion leaked showing a court standing ready to strike down Roe, thus voiding the constitutional right to privacy, equal social standing, individual liberty and abortion. 

So some Americans did what Americans do in such times. 

They raised hell.

A quiet, lawful and very white hell. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh lives in a suburb of Washington, where the well-scrubbed children of the capital’s white upper-middle class romp and play – and where the unwritten social code is civility. The most dangerous thing you can expect from these people, who are the most insulated from the consequences of partisan politics, is discourtesy. 

But unmannerliness was too much for some. On Monday, an unsigned editorial in the Post titled “Leave the justices alone at home” said

The right to assemble and speak freely is essential to democracy. Erasing any distinction between the public square and private life is essential to totalitarianism. It is crucial, therefore, to protect robust demonstrations of political dissent while preventing them from turning into harassment or intimidation (italics mine).

Allow me to rephrase.

A member of the Post’s editorial board, a singular voice in American public affairs, looked at these protests by mostly upper-middle class white people, for whom the consequences of politics are almost never felt, and who were demonstrating peacefully in public spaces with permission and police escort, and said this sure looks like the erasure of any distinction between the public square and private life.

The thinking seems to be that without a firm line separating public and private, without a singular voice in public affairs defending that line, totalitarianism looms. So this weekend’s protests, featuring tens of dozens of polite white people, are akin to harassment and intimidation. 

Got that? 

I’m used to America’s respectable white people, who vacillate cynically between the parties, seeing left-liberal agitators for freedom and justice as extreme. That’s what the rightwing alleges. Respectable white people typically give the rightwing the benefit of the doubt. 

I get that. They’re wrong. But I get that.

What I don’t get is this. 

Isn’t the Post’s editorial writer extreme for accusing peaceful and lawful protesters of intimidation? Isn’t US Senator Susan Collins of Maine extreme for describing a pro-Roe message written in chalk on a sidewalk near her home as the “defacement of public property”?

Isn’t it extreme for the Senate to hurry up and pass, according to NBC News’ Frank Thorp, a bill extending protections from the Supreme Court Police to the immediate family members of Supreme Court justices,” as if these middle-aged protesters were a present peril?

Isn’t it extreme when a hack impersonating a journalist, who’s paid by the Heritage Foundation, video records a Sunday protest outside Kavanaugh’s house, then tweets it with commentary suggesting it “has turned markedly negative,” which is then picked up and amplified by the rightwing media apparatus, triggering yet another moral panic?

The answer is yes. It’s extreme.

The extremism terrorizes respectable white people. 

John Harwood of CNN said, “it is wrong to even hint at physically threatening a public official,” commenting on a video of protesters who were not in any way physically threatening anyone. Bob Shrum, a Democratic strategist commenting on the same video, said: “Voting is the path to change; threatening Kavanaugh is counterproductive.” 

Even the president got scared. The White House press secretary said Monday that he “believes in the Constitutional right to protest. But that should never include violence, threats or vandalism. Judges perform an incredibly important function in our society, and they must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.”

Again: no one’s personal safety was in jeopardy.

I’ll leave it to others to explain the constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and free assembly. I’ll leave it to others to explain why these protests are the only thing so far holding accountable five unaccountable justices. I’ll leave it to others to explain that the Democrats should be encouraging protest, not discouraging it.

My point is that so much depends on the opinions of respectable white people, as they will determine the future direction of the country. My point is that the opinions of respectable white people are directly proportional the rightwing’s ability to terrorize them into going along.

The moment respectable white people stop going along is the moment they stop giving the rightwing the benefit of the doubt. The best part? It’s easy. All they have to do is watch the videos, as I did, and see the facts for themselves. Once the rightwing isn’t credible with a majority of respectable white people, its curse on America might finally ebb.

For decades, the rightwing has told respectable white people who are receptive to the rhetoric of stigma that the forces of liberty and justice for all – democracy and liberalism – are dangerous. They are radical. 

It worked! 

Status quo saved!

But now the rightwing is trying to scare respectable white people into believe that other respectable white people, in protesting a ruling that will affect millions of other respectable white people, are e x t r e m e. 

We’ll see how that goes.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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