Living in Florida, and like any place really, the weather is one of a handful of topics that strangers can civilly discuss if not serve as a rare moment for bonding. Talk of storms with names and famous ones without can be heard every Friday and Saturday night at Red Lobsters across the state, as people wait and wait for a table. You won’t live here long before being invited to compare the tropical, humid weather to the dry desert heat. For some reason the latter tends to be the victor, though I think that’s because it is the imagined, “greener” other place. But I’m reminded of a quip a friend would offer when people claimed dry heat was “better” than the humidity: “Stick your head in an oven. It’s still hot.”
It’s “hot” right now in Arizona, for sure, and, like Florida, the state has a rich history of being on the frontlines of rightwing conservatism. I wish it were simply an issue of temperature, since that would provide a simple explanation and, in my thinking, some kind of solution. I’d strongly advocate public and mandatory air-conditioning. But given that the right-wingers thrive in Alaska to SoCal, and in fact every state, climate might be dropped from the equation.
No, rightwing views and politics are certainly made and remade, and Glenn Beck and his ilk are rightfully being brought up in connection to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords. Sarah Palin’s now-even-more-infamous “crosshairs map,” in which Gifford’s was in dead-aim, looks to have served part of its purpose. From talk radio to so-called “mainstream” media, angry, caustic, outraged conservative polemics have long been a staple, though their frequency and intensity have indeed been on the uptick in the past few years. Seething, reactionary violence isn’t hard to hear and see.
Part of the more-recent genius of conservatives has been their ability to play the oppressed outsider when, in fact, their views are indeed shared and practiced by a majority. Not enough, in my opinion, has been said in response to the sheer absurdity of Glenn Beck forever calling the current administration “socialist.” While on one level it of course demonstrates a laughable understanding of history and politics, on another level it sadly demonstrates the pitiful ability of the left to provide a clear and noticeable answer. Conservatives have long been productively framing the terms, range, and direction of political debate. And, sadly, James Connolly’s notice of “the readiness of the ruling class to order killing, the small value the ruling class has ever set upon human life” is still all too true.
Socially speaking, these are in fact desperate times. Crisis capitalism is forcefully ? and successfully ? undoing struggled-for social structures. The so-called “financial crisis” is providing the grounds for reshaping our communities and working conditions in far more favorable terms to the capitalists. Wealth is increasingly flowing upwards. Profound ? sickening ? inequalities persist. The rightwing populism ?i?ek brilliantly foresaw and outlined is growing stronger by the day. I differ with some on the left who see the current conditions as the end road for capitalism. Far from it. If capitalism has taught us anything, it is that it is exceedingly adaptive. It will crush everything and anyone just to rebuild. Nothing remains outside its logic. I see a likely return to the Robber Barron age, not an end to capitalism. In the absence of any real socialist alternative and response, the capitalists will succeed.
Our current conditions in fact demand a radical solution. The only question, really, is whose radical solution? I actually see a glimmer of hope in Beck and clan, since there may be an opportunity to be seized. In their skewed presentation and understanding of leftist politics, they may paradoxically provide the grounds to offer a more authentic version. Attention might be redirected to questions like wellbeing and quality of life, rather than a crude economy of profits. Trillion dollar military budgets might be seen in relation to deficits in town and country. “Kinds of jobs” might be emphasized, rather than just simply “jobs.” Put another way, we might rethink how we shape, structure, and organize our daily lives, and ask who sets the terms and why. Indeed, the temperature may be just right.
Paul Myron Hillier is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Tampa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org