Houston and the Culture Wars
(Not the name of an indie rock band)
There was an interesting juxtaposition of articles in the Op-Ed section of August 28’s New York Times. On one side of the page was an article by Mimi Swartz about the Houston flooding. On the other side was a piece by Jim Lyons about Trump’s plan to open up public lands to more drilling for fossil fuels. Really? Fossil fuels? While a storm partially enhanced by global warming destroys the fourth largest city in the country? And of course this storm hit Houston a mere two days after Trump issued an executive order rolling back anti-flooding regulations that had been put into place by the Obama administration. Is all this really related to the so-called “culture wars” in this country? I think it is.
For years environmentalists have been warning the state of Texas (and everyone else) that changes to the earth’s climate, due largely to the burning of fossil fuels, would multiply the strength of tropical storms. At the same time environmentalists in Texas have been telling the City of Houston that its unchecked urban sprawl has been paving over wetlands that are vital to protecting the City from catastrophic flooding. What was the reaction to these warnings from the average Texan and their elected representatives? It was not to heed these warnings, or even to respectfully disregard them based on conclusions reached by alternative (hopefully peer reviewed) research. Rather, it was sneering derision about the “tree-hugging socialist libtards” who were sounding the alarm. And that’s probably one of the gentler statements. It is not enough for conservatives to disagree with liberals, they have to hate them to be seen as truly authentic. Trump supporters on the hard right will take a stand that hurts themselves just so they can delight in the fact that it angers liberals. The destruction of Houston is a small price to pay in order to hurt liberals’ feelings. At least it is if you are a sociopath. Who doesn’t happen to live in Houston.
What is it about liberal values that so sets off right-wing Republicans, rendering the manifestly ugly and unfit Trump appealing to them? I have a hypothesis about this that also helps to explain Hillary Clinton’s surprising defeat in November (of course, only in America can winning by three million votes be turned into a defeat, but that’s another story). Many of the values that are viewed as being part and parcel of liberalism are also those that are seen as being “female” attributes by our society. These include values such as sympathy, empathy, generosity, unselfishness, tolerance, compromise, and cooperation. In our current toxic atmosphere, environmentalists become “tree-huggers”; those espousing negotiation and compromise are “girly-men”; and traits such as caring and compassion are derided as being “weak”, which in Trumpworld is the ultimate insult.
In this atmosphere liberals and environmentalists (not necessarily the same thing, but a lot of overlap) are scorned and ignored because they exhibit traits that are seen as “womanly”. Misogyny is a rot that hurts the country and the world in incalculable ways. In the loss of talented women who don’t go into tech fields because they don’t feel welcome there. In the denial of the presidency to one of the most qualified people to ever run for that office. And in strategic decision making, on subjects ranging from wars to the environment, that are made on the basis of trying not to look weak (read: female) as opposed to simply trying to do what makes the most sense. And now the most powerful man on the planet is someone who disdains women whose appearance doesn’t measure up to his standards, and who thinks the ones who meet his standards of pulchritude exist only to exalt his virility and to be manhandled when the mood strikes him. And so the girly-men environmentalists are scorned and ignored, and Houston drowns. Is abject stupidity a male trait in the same way that empathy is a female trait? As the holder of a y chromosome I’d like to think not. But if American culture (and really human culture) continues to see nurturing traits as being “female” and to devalue those traits precisely because they are seen that way, then, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, a hard rain will continue to fall on us all.