Charleston and the Conservative Mind-Set
On June 17 a young white man with a virulently racist worldview and a powerful handgun murdered 9 people in a Charleston church for no reason other than the color of their skin. The reaction of many leading Conservatives/Republicans to this heinous crime tells us much about the Conservative/Republican mind-set, and how it processes, or fails to process, information. (Note that at this point in our history, the words “Conservative” and “Republican” are pretty much interchangeable. Today all Republicans are conservative, and virtually all Conservatives are Republicans). Conservatives today maintain a set of beliefs that can be said to be faith-based. That is, these beliefs are ingrained in the Conservative consciousness, and nothing will ever be able to persuade a Conservative to change his/her mind about them. Facts and evidence mean nothing and change nothing. A rational person will alter his/her beliefs based on available evidence, whereas modern day Conservatives will alter the facts to fit their ethos, which, as a matter of faith, may not be changed in any way.
Let’s start with the Conservative/Republican mouthpiece, Fox News. Right after the shooting, Elizabeth Hasselbeck on “Fox and Friends” called the Charleston murders “an attack on faith”. Steve Doocy chimed in “…extraordinarily they called it a hate crime…and some look at it, because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church…but you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility toward Christians, so, it was a church! So maybe that’s what it was about”. In comments about the Charleston murders Rick Santorum commented “we’re now seeing assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before”. Senator Lindsay Graham allowed that perhaps race was a motivating factor in this horrible crime, but also added “there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them”. At the time that all these statements were made, the public knew that Dylann Roof was a white man who had posted racist comments on Facebook, that he wore a jacket with the flags of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia on it, and that he had told a survivor of the massacre that he had come to this church specifically to kill black people because “you rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go”.
And yet, many Conservatives couldn’t bring themselves to see the painfully obvious (at least until it became too obvious for even Fox News to deny); that this was a racially motivated bloodbath. That’s because there are certain things that Conservatives believe as an article of faith, and a result, these beliefs are sacrosanct, and no amount of evidence to the contrary will persuade a Conservative to change their mind. And so the facts are twisted until they’re unrecognizable so that they conform to basic Conservative beliefs, which include:
• There is no longer any racism in this country against African-Americans.
• Christians in this country are subject to discrimination and bigotry on a regular basis.
• Easy access to firearms for everybody makes us all safer.
• Only Muslims commit acts of “terrorism”.
If you hold the above beliefs to be sacrosanct and immutable, there is no way you can process the concept of a White Christian acting on his racist rage to cold-bloodedly murder 9 African-Americans in their church. So what do you do? Change your beliefs? Never. So the facts must be changed to fit the beliefs, and so a racially motivated crime is turned into a religiously motivated crime. The fact that Dylann Roof never showed a scintilla of anti-Christian animus? Doesn’t matter. And of course for Conservatives there can be no use of the word “terrorism” in this case (that’s only for Muslims), even though striking terror into the hearts of African-Americans (hopefully leading to a race war) was clearly one of the gunman’s goals.
The above is only one example of how the Republican mindset disdains facts and evidence in favor of “beliefs”. Others abound. The facts of climate change don’t fit into the anti-government-regulation belief system, and so they ignore and/or dispute these facts. That LGBT people are discriminated against doesn’t fit neatly into their worldview, so the struggle for marriage equality somehow morphs into discrimination against Christians. Darwin’s theory of evolution contradicts a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible, and so evolution becomes “only a theory”. Abstinence-only sex education works “because I know it works” (Governor Rick Perry) so don’t even bother showing me rigorous scientific studies which show that it doesn’t. Cutting taxes for the rich is the only way to bring prosperity for everyone, no matter how many times it’s tried and results in the rich getting richer and everyone else getting poorer. It goes on and on; these are only a few select examples. Conservatives don’t want to be confused by any facts that contradict their beliefs, and so evidence must be twisted and warped beyond recognition to conform to those beliefs. And so the racist murder of 9 African-Americans by a hate-filled white man becomes an attack on Christianity despite a total lack of evidence to support this claim. No evidence is needed, because this is what Conservatives BELIEVE.
It’s important to note that Liberals are not immune from “I believe what I believe and facts don’t matter” syndrome. We all have preconceived notions and it makes us feel good when facts corroborate these notions. But today, in general, Liberals tend to be more open to scientific evidence than are Conservatives. Using myself as an example, I am very leery of the energy extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. This is because fossil fuel companies have a history of either lying or being wrong about the safety of their practices. Exxon told us that their tankers were safe and then the Exxon Valdez incident happened. BP told us that their deep-water wells were safe and then the Deepwater Horizon blowout caused massive damage to the Gulf of Mexico. BP said that their safety measures would nip any leak in the bud, but once oil started gushing into the Gulf, they were helpless to stop it for weeks. This history has an impact on my feelings regarding fracking. But if I am going to practice what I preach, I have to concede that if that if a truly independent scientific study showed fracking to be environmentally safe, I would have to believe it. Yes I would be skeptical of such a study, given the past history stated above, but if the truly independent evidence shows fracking to be safe, I would feel compelled to put aside my preconceived notions and admit that the evidence shows what it shows (although I would still be wary of any fossil fuel because of the effect on climate change, but that’s another story). But I see precious little corresponding impulse on the part of the vast majority of Conservatives. For them, ingrained beliefs trump evidence every time.