The righteous anger of Tess Rafferty, and the manufactured crisis

A few days after the election of Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States, a woman named Tess Rafferty[1] recorded an incendiary email, a love letter of sorts to the right wing of America.

The video was a little bit over the top, which was understandable given that we no longer (as she noted) live in “polite America” but rather in “grab them by the pussy” America. Her love letter was in response to the giant love bouquet that the American Right (and much of working class America) had sent our way on November 8th. As I wrote a few days after the election about Right Wing America, “They despise us because we’re liberals and elitists and order café lattes at Starbucks, because we have queer friends or are queer, because we want transgendered people to be able to use the bathroom of their choice, because we’re women or feminists, because we think that black lives matter, because we can afford college, because we know what arugula is, because some of us are Jewish, because some of us fraternize with Muslims, and because many of us have passports and have been overseas.” What I left out is that many of them despise us because they think we’ve been sitting in judgment of them, looking down on them and their “middle American” values. They hate that more than anything.

Only that it’s largely not true.

Oh, sure, there are moments, and there have been particular individuals or political commentators, who have sat in judgment of “fly over” America. I’m not saying that it never happens. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t happen anywhere to the degree that the folks who are so angry at us thinks it happens.

The Manufactured Crisis

Where did the American right get the notion that we are sitting over here in smug superiority? Where did they get the notion that we are so sitting in judgment of them? They got that notion where they get almost all of their other notions, namely from the echo chamber that is Fox News and right wing talk radio.

Think about it. What “left wing” news sources do you think that members of the right wing consult?

They don’t watch the Daily Show. And if they did, they would discover, first of all, that the Daily Show is funny. And second they would discover that the Daily Show is also perfectly willing excoriate the Democratic party, about which Jon Stewart and others have repeatedly remarked that their members need to “grow a pair.”

They don’t listen to the Daily Show’s progeny like John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert. Well, a few of them might have checked out Colbert when he took over for David Letterman, but I doubt many stayed.[2] The American right wing isn’t going to get much more satisfaction from Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon, both of whom are also on subversive side of the ledger, and clearly left of center.

They don’t listen to National Public Radio. NPR would bore most of them to tears. It’s an entire broadcast channel devoted to policy wonks and the acquisition of knowledge. Aside from maybe “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” there is nothing that the right wing would find enjoyable here.

They don’t watch the network nightly newscasts, which would provide them with lots of dramatic visuals and teasers for coming stories, but very little of the red meat that they’ve come to crave.

So, again, where do they get the idea that we’re all sitting in judgment of them? From Fox News and right wing talk radio, of course.

The Southern Inferiority Complex

The South in particular still has an inferiority complex about the North. But much of “fly over” America also has an inferiority complex about the coasts. And I can prove it to you.[3]

A few years ago I was playing in a classic rock band, and we got a new lead singer who was especially adept at country music. Now, I don’t listen to country music — I actually mostly play free-form improv and jazz-funk — but I recognize that country artists often have very good voices and that country tunes are often very melodic.[4] I was open to playing a few country songs, to give our singer some songs that he loves. What absolutely struck me about the half-dozen country songs we did play was how many of them were basically extolling the Southern life-style. The songs we did included:

  • That’s How Country Boys Roll (Billy Currington)
  • Where the Blacktop Ends (Keith Urban)
  • Southern Voice (Tim McGraw)
  • Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
  • One More Last Chance (Vince Gill)
  • Gimme Three Steps (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Four out of those six songs are directly extolling the southern life-style. “Sweet Home Alabama” is, of course, a direct response to Neil Young’s Southern Man.. Even the songs that weren’t directly about the South still praised the Southern and country life-style in their descriptions of the life-styles the protagonists were leading.

That simply doesn’t happen in pop songs or in rock and roll. Oh sure, there’s the occasional song like Alicia Keyes’ “Empire State of Mind.” Bruce Springsteen has written about the working class in New Jersey, but his songs are really homages to the entire working class, not just those living in New Jersey. And they’re not exactly extolling the life style.

Think about it? How many rock and pop songs extol the virtues of the liberal or urban life-style?

Or consider this example: Mike Huckabee – who I know was a failed presidential candidate, but who still represents much of “fly over” America – wrote a book called “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” in which he tries to prove (especially to us “liberal elitists”) that he has a lot of common sense ideas. And indeed, he does have some common sense ideas, and I didn’t disagree with everything in his book (although truth be told, he frequently argued against himself).[5] But what I found most fascinating is that he opened his book with a long complaint about how one can’t find a good bowl of grits in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., which Huckabee identifies as being in a “bubble.”[6] This he seems to equate with people in those cities being out of touch.

So, I just have to point out to Mike Huckabee that the whole point of regional cuisine is that it’s regional. It may be true that you can’t get a good bowl of grits in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., — although frankly, it’s been my experience that in New York you can get just about anything – but you also can’t get good New York bagels or Chicago style pizza or Philly Cheese Steaks in the South.[7] Again, that’s the whole point of regional cuisine. It doesn’t prove that any of the regions are more authentic or less elitist than any other region. It just proves that Mike Huckabee is still working on his inferiority complex, and that it remains largely unresolved.

The problem then, isn’t so much that we look down on “fly over” America. The problem is that we just don’t think about them very much.

Remember that the opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is indifference.

It is true that the vast majority of depictions on TV and in film are of urban dwellers, or suburban dwellers, and very few of the people who live in the countryside. When they are depicted, they are often (but not always)[8] depicted as uneducated, simple, crude or just plain morons.[9]

We, on the progressive side of the ledger, have also been guilty of focusing too much on issues which really are of little consequence. I’m talking about issues like where transgendered people can go to the bathroom. If I’m going to be honest, this is barely a blip on the radar screen for me, especially compared to an issue like climate change, which is of huge consequence to me.[10]

On the left, we’ve been winning the culture wars. On the right, they’ve been winning the economic wars (on behalf of corporate America). The pace of change is dizzying, and maybe really too fast for a lot of people who believe in “traditional” Christian values. We do have to allow them some time to adapt.

Fighting Fire with Fire

While people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh have been excoriating us on the left, we’ve mostly turned the other cheek or looked away.[11] And, as I’ve said before, that is about to stop. Right Wing America wanted to get our attention, and now they’ve got it. The next four years are going to be filled with outrage, and action, and the partisan divide – if this is possible – is going to get deeper and more entrenched. If we’re lucky, we’re not going to become a quasi-fascist state, which notion is not as laughable as you might think. It’s going to get noisier and more contentious on both sides of the partisan divide. But it has to. The right wing of America has hijacked historic conservative Republican politics, and has increasingly been moving it further and further to the fringe right. They’re taking white nationalism mainstream. (That will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.) It can’t keep going on like this without a strong response from the rest of us.

So, to return to Tess Rafferty, I would agree with all those of my friends that her video message is a little bit over the top. But that’s better than turning the other cheek once again. The Republicans have been playing hard ball while we’ve been playing softball. And that’s been happening for a very long time. It’s time that we grow a pair. It’s time that we start playing hardball. And Tess Rafferty did just that.

[1] According to Wikipedia, Tess Rafferty is an American writer, comedian, and actress. The author of the 2012 culinary memoir, Recipes for Disaster. Rafferty has written for television shows including @midnight, and networks such as MTV and Comedy Central. From 2005 until 2012, she was the supervising producer for The Soup and the show’s only female writer.

[2] David Letterman was sufficiently subversive that I doubt many right wingers were fans of his to begin with. But you never know.

[3] I wrote about this once before, and you can read that article here.

[4] Part of the reason that I’m not a big country fan is that the harmonies are very basic, and that country songs are mostly in 2:4 (marching) or 3:4 (waltz) meter, and I much prefer 4:4 and 6:8 and a lot more syncopation. That’s part of the reason I can also enjoy something like Afropop, most of which has a really good beat. But, I digress.

[5] But a more detailed look at Mike Huckabee’s book is for another day.

[6] I also wouldn’t deny that there are plenty of people in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. who indeed live in a bubble, but there are also many people in those three cities – and these people are routinely ignored by the critics of the so-called liberal elite – who are poor, or disenfranchised, or working class, and in no way could be described as being part of the elite. Conservative critics of the cities almost always forget about this part of the urban population. Except when it suits their needs to call them thugs.

[7] I lived outside of the Research Triangle in a city called Pittsboro for a year, and the only thing we could get there was fast food and barbecue. Things may have improved some since then, but I doubt very much. Even Italian food was “exotic” in the college town of Chapel Hill, for crying out loud.

[8] Consider, for example, movies like “Where the Heart Is,” which is a very loving portrait of a simple girl who makes good. Even harsher movies like “Winter’s Bone” depict the heroine as completely resilient, and much wiser than her lack of education would otherwise suggest.

[9] Personally, I understand how it feels to be depicted in an unflattering light, because I was born in Germany. Believe me, I know.

[10] It’s not that I don’t want transgendered people to go the bathroom of their choice, it’s just that it really doesn’t matter to me that much. My mother – and my mother is a solid “Father Bob Drinan/Barney Frank” liberal – pointed out to me that there was a picture in Time magazine of a transgendered man who had become pregnant who was breastfeeding. The guy still had a beard, and to be honest, this was not a pretty picture. You can see it here, if you’re interested.

[11] It’s not that we haven’t hit back occasionally, such as when Al Franken wrote “Rush Limbaug is a Big Fat Idiot.” But when we have responded, we’ve mostly responded with humor. There is no one on the left who writes with the ferocious cruelty of an Ann Coulter, for example.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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