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Reclaiming Family Values for the Left

In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, Satan creates a daughter, Sin, and from an incestuous relationship with her yields a bastard, Death. Created by the blind sage as a proto-Hegelian antithetical triad to the Holy Trinity, Milton’s violent, haunting un-Holy Family seems of late (relatively speaking) to have run amok on our body politic.

About four decades ago, in response to the ascent of the Equal Rights Amendment and its possible passage, the late Phyllis Schlafly and a coterie of theocratic ministers began a campaign that eventually would blossom into the faith-based element of Ronald Reagan’s electoral coalition. Their cause was quite slapdash and unintentional; indeed, in the classic documentary THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK,  the feminist scholar and activist Prof. Sally Gearhart points out that, in the hindsight of history, speaking circa 1984, it only became apparent later on that the anti-LGBT forces she and Milk opposed in the latter half of the 1970s would become the Reagan base. It bears mentioning here that, prior to Reagan, the Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Southern Baptist religious polities had traditonally held that the segregation of faith from the secular order of governance was virtuous and were multually-excommunicative of each other.

In the time between Schlafly’s first thrust in the name of “defending family values” and this present moment, we have seen this entire smookescreen of familiar preservation melt like sugar in a tea cup.

Donald Trump is a draft dodging, adulterous, child-bullying brute. While Reagan and his neoconservative progeny certainly had their foibles and hypocrisies, they at least attempted to present a stage show of being responsible adults. But as Ralph Nader told Amy Goodman in March 2017:

The mask is off. Donald Trump, his braggadocio, his lurid promises, his assurances that everything will be safe, and people will have—all people will have health insurance, and there will be plenty of jobs. The mask is off. The fangs are now out.

In other words, Trump’s scorched earth praxis throws the entire Republican posture as the party of ‘family values’ to the wind. Efforts to reclaim this veneer, perhaps best personified by the lame Mitt Romney, have been futile at best and ridiculed by the Trump base on average, often with a virulent dose of emasculatory white nationalism thrown in (the alt-right jeering at so-called ‘cuck-servatives’ is in fact a dogwhistle alluding to a pornographic scenario involving a married European woman having extra-marital relations with an African man). In a very real and shameless sense, the entire edifice of Republican respectability politics is gone.

Slavoj Zizek has pointed out the following notion:

I disagree with my leftist friends who immediately cry wolf, “Oh family values, they want to reimpose the patriarchal family, what about gay marriages, new forms? blah, blah, blah.” No, let’s look at what effectively happened. I don’t think there was an era that did more to undermine so-called family and community values than the Reagan era, with Reaganomics, all these shifts to a new economy, the end of fixed employment, mobility, etc. So, my response to conservatives is not that we need to defend plurality and different lifestyles, but look who is taking! Your policies undermined the family, and you don’t have any right to even speak about family values.

For decades, the Republicans railed against secular liberals and the Left for various grievances. But haven’t the past 24 months completely flipped the script in a fashion that even flies in the face of the old conservative hypocrisies?

Now, in Trump-time, we can seriously ask these questions and seriously answer them without a shred of ironic jest or even glee.

Who now stands as the major threat to stable, healthy, predominantly Christian families and their community structures? No, not queers, it’s Trump and ICE who literally work to demolish the basic bonds of family and actually do endanger children as little as infants in a very real and tangible fashion! Anyone who comes away from the recent Frontline/Pro Publica collaborative film Separated: Children at the Border without a conclusion such as this holds within them a black hole where a conscience is usually supposed to be found. (As someone who works in an urban school district with a significant Latinx population, yes, I acknowledge we can’t exclude from such a statement those of other religious backgrounds or national origins, but I hope the protesting reader knows what I mean).

Who is the most prominent and dangerous exhibitionist of dark magic promoting nothing more or less than human sacrifice? Nope, not the local geeks playing their Dungeons and Dragons games, it is in fact the alt-right and Brietbart, venues that revive the Norse-tinted scientific racist necromancy of the Nazi era and re-package it with a 21stcentury sheen. (I acknowledge and understand that there are many good Wiccans and Satanists in this world who are known for some really unique and interesting anti-oppression work in their faith practices but, when boiled down, Nazi racism always did entail a certain strand of pre-Christian paganism fused with German Christianity’s more reactionary elements.)

Where can we find groups that are reaping chaos in their wake and actively promote a lifestyle of degeneracy, licentiousness, and crime? No, not a particular ethnic, gender, or sexual minority group, I’m talking about the Proud Boys, with their homoerotic initiatiatory blood rituals, and the Rise Above Movement, with their brawling street gang ethos derived from late capitalist urban landscapes and fused with the hard white nationalist militancy of the post-bellum Confederate veteran militias.

These and many more queries show the notion of “family values” now stands in our political horizon as a kind of orphan.

It is time, then, for not neoliberals or weak-kneed progressives to assume this mantle.

Instead, it needs to be the radical Left, anarchists, Communists, Trotskyists, and socialists of every stripe and tendency, that becomes the vanguard of family values.

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Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

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