Fighting the beast: How can Clifford Russell be saved?

Meet Clifford Russell:

“What’s killing us is all these entitlements, we’ve got to get rid of all of them. All this welfare, food stamps, Medicare, and then big government health care on top of it, it’s all just too much! When do we say enough is enough?”

What do you mean, exactly, I ask him. You say people are suffering under Obama, don’t they need some help?

“No. No more help, enough is enough. People have to pick themselves up, take some responsibility. Why should we be paying for people’s mistakes and bad choices? All these illegitimate families just adding to the population, making all these bad decisions, then asking us to pay for it? It’s time to cut them off.”

I ask for some clarification: what do you mean, just starve them out? What if people can’t find work? Let them starve?

“Look, there’s always something you can do. You telling me people can’t make a choice for a better life? We have to help all of them? No. I’ll tell you what really need to do with these illegitimate families on welfare—give all the kids up for adoption and execute the parents.”

I stare at him and blink in a glaze of shock.

Just to be sure I heard him right, I ask him to repeat it, twice.

“Yes, I mean it. Get rid of all of them, give the kids up for adoption, execute the parents, and you get rid of the problem.” (When I call him back to revisit the issue, he elaborates: “put the children up for adoption and execute the parents, and word would get out soon” that poor people shouldn’t have kids.)

The reporter there is Christopher D. Cook of The Progressive, which printed his account along with a response from Clifford Russell, which Russell titled, “Socialistic Programs of Democratic Party Encourage People to Have Illegitimate Children.” Russell’s response was, I think, intended to rebut Cook’s portrayal of him, but winds up instead emphatically confirming it.

It cannot be our only response, and it cannot be our primary response, but at least a part of our response to people like Clifford Russell must be to offer them a chance to be saved — to find redemption, liberation and salvation.

Those are all religious terms, the language of spiritual rebirth and renewal. I can’t help but think that such rebirth may be the only hope for someone like this — a dramatic John Newton-like transformation in which this man who is lost can be found and this man who is blind learns to see.

But I’m not mainly thinking here of presenting Russell with an altar call. I’m thinking of the many different approaches that may be necessary to free him from the multi-pronged beast of lies, pride, hate, fear, willful ignorance, resentment and self-righteousness that have him so thoroughly captive. What can be done? What can be tried?

Education, surely, the presentation of better information — but how can that information be presented in a way that can penetrate the defensive shell the beast has constructed around him? Empathy, conscience, humor, prophetic truth-telling, relationship, breaking bread, ridicule, denunciation, forgiveness, protest, art, music and story all seem like weapons in our arsenal against the beast, but how can those weapons best be deployed?

I’m wholly in earnest about this. The salvation of those who are hatefully oppressive cannot be our priority — that must always be the protection of those who are hatefully oppressed. But one way to liberate the oppressed is to liberate the oppressor — to convince him to just … stop.

What do you think? Is this naive? Impossible? Hopeless?

Can Clifford Russell be saved?


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  • AnonaMiss

    I got the impression that he was a volunteer for Repubs, which casts a somewhat different light on the GOP’s non-reaction. If he’s an employee, let’s send this shit to the Obama campaign and the national news networks and get him fired.

    I also got the impression that it was a small office with only a handful of people who would have to deal with him long after the reporter was gone. Maybe I was reading too much into the article, but I think letting people go on their bullshit in the interest of keeping the peace when it doesn’t seem that important is a universal human experience. I think we can further infer from the fact that he’s afraid being from California will give him away that the author did not identify himself as a reporter, as the next logical question would be “for whom?” So, I don’t see any reason why the other people in the office should feel a need to go out of their way to rein Russell in.I recognize that this fleshes out the scenario far beyond what was given in the article, and that it’ll probably earn another accusation of thinking I’m psychic. I’ll just skip the accusation and get straight to the defense, which is that I think the GOP being an enclave of psychopaths who want to murder the poor is a considerably more ‘out there’ than a couple of volunteers not caring enough to contradict a cranky old man.If the GOP’s position truly were that people should be rounded up and executed – if we really could attribute Russell’s words to the GOP in general, and honestly believe that – it would be time to take up arms to defend them. We would be monstrous not to.But it isn’t. Because we can’t. So we shouldn’t.And talking like it is, and like we can, implies that we will, or at least should. And people in the thread have stated that they would like to, or at least wish they could. So yes, I think that warrants some calling-out.

  • alsafi

    See, that’s why I’m saying that you’re bending over backwards to read Russell and his associates charitably, while refusing to extend that same charity to your fellow commenters here. Because, while I’m willing to admit error if you have some particularly relevant quotes for me, I honestly haven’t seen anyone saying that all Republicans espouse precisely the same degree of hatred for the poor that Russell indicates. The closest I’ve seen is people saying precisely what I am: that hatred of the poor seems to be endemic in the modern GOP, though seldom do we see it so rawly and virulently expressed as we do here. It requires a much less charitable reading than you have been willing to extend to Russell to read me as saying “all Republicans want to execute the poor just like he does,” especially in the face of repeated replies to the contrary.

    Benefit of the doubt is a good thing. I’m honestly curious, though, why yours seems to be so one-sided?

  • AnonaMiss

    I don’t think you’ve been saying that Republicans-in-general want to execute the poor, Alsafi. I do think some other commenters have. And since one of them was responding to me from the beginning of the conversation-thread, I ended up addressing that position out of proportion with its actual presence in the comments-thread as a whole.

    As for one-sided benefit of the doubt, I think it’s a combination of having higher expectations for the commenters here, and the commenters here being around to defend themselves. My first note against the commenters here was (intended as) a gentle chide/reminder; but some of the most virulently Republicans Burn Kittens posts were made in response to it. A number of people seemed to think that I just didn’t understand how evil they really are, which understandably alarmed me even more.

    The more alarming quotes:

    People like this are why I consider the entire Republican party to be a satanic death cult. There is almost nothing in this world that I consider to be evil that a Republican somewhere doesn’t cheerfully embrace. Torture. Preemptive war. The deliberate destruction of the global environment. Forced pregnancy. The constitutional right of employers to mistreat and abuse their employees. Institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia and religious bigotry. The suggestion that it is better for children to die than be saved by any program which ignorant people consider to be Socialism. The death penalty even in the face of systemic racial bias in sentencing and even in the face of proof of actual innocence! And now, here’s a raging GOP asshole who proudly proclaims his desire to commit genocide agaisnt the poor. Right now, I would not throw a rope to save a drowning man if I knew he was a Republican/Teabagger. I could not bear the awful moral burden of being responsible for his survival and thus partially guilty for whatever evil things he does in the future.

    The point of the article is that people like this really do exist, and guess who they’re voting for this year? Not because they can overlook his faults, but because they wholeheartedly approve of any idea which involves making it implausible for poor people to continue, you know, milking the system… These are actual kitten burners.

    This guy flat out advocates mass murder.  His stance on the poor practically Godwins the thread before anyone even starts trying to discuss it.  And yet he’s working at a Romney campaign headquarters.  This tells me that either everyone there is terrified of him and that’s how he’s managing to stay there (though why no one ran up to the author of the article going “Oh, God, don’t judge us by him!” afterwards, I can’t explain) or no one there has a problem with his stance.

    At what point does the Republican party actually deserve condemnation?When they actually set up “sanctuary districts” for homeless and the unemployed?Or when they graduate to full-on gulags for same?But what does it say when being for mass murder becomes a tribal position?How exactly do we find reconciliation with people who genuinely want to kill us?If they think the notion of executing these parents is “not that important,” then yeah, I’m pretty willing to say that they could stand to learn some compassion, too.I have a grandpa who has a personality composed mostly of verbal and emotional abuse of anyone who challenges his authority. When he says that we should round up the “chinks” and put them into camps since it worked so well for keeping the “japs” in line in World War 2, I don’t think not-challenging him on that means I find the idea of interning Chinese-Americans unimportant. It means I find what he thinks unimportant, as it’s unlikely to have any effect on anything ever.

  • alsafi

     ‘Kay, so I have evidence that we’re reading the same thread, anyway. (Not that I had any doubt.)

    But I don’t read any of those quotes you pulled as saying what you seem to want them to say: that all Republicans everywhere are exactly like Russell. They do point out, rightly, I think, that the Republican Party endorses actions and platforms that increase misery and death, and that from the things we’ve seen many of them verifiably say, that’s just dandy with the people voting for them.

    (I am not touching the argument about the difference between actively harming and not saving, or even the bit about wishing harm on others, firstly because I’m not a part of that argument, and secondly because I don’t see a point in having an argument on two fronts.)

    But I don’t like the argument that “I expect better from you” justifies a double standard. I am a gay person. I am a woman. I grew up poor. I am being personally harmed by the policies they want to double down on. To have you add to my burdens by telling me that if I dare to let my anger and despair show through, it means I’m just as nasty and hateful a person as the people who are mistreating me and mine–because you “expect better”–is quite painful. It comes across as just another iteration of the old song about how “you people” have to be twice as good to be thought of half as well, and how if we’re just suffering angels, someday they’ll understand. It serves to silence legitimate anger, and it hurts people who are already hurting.

    I don’t expect to change your mind, but I hope it’s something you’ll consider.

  • AnonaMiss

    I recognize that being told you need to be better than the people who attack you hurts, and I’m sorry for causing you pain by touching on that argument. If it makes you feel any better, my “I expect better of the slacktivist community” was intended to convey that I was surprised at what I found here, not that I hold y’all to an objectively different standard. I don’t think Russell’s remarks were anywhere near OK, nor do I think that any of the condemnations given here, however violent, held a candle to what he said.

    You guys are here to listen to me, and Russell is not, so I criticized those who could hear. This was, in retrospect, unkind of me, and I’m sorry to everyone to whom I gave the impression that you were more to be criticized than Russell himself.

  • alsafi

    You and I are probably the only people still reading this thread, but I want you to know how much I appreciate you sticking it out with me. I can understand criticizing the people who are actually there to hear it, and I never got the impression that you agreed with Russell to any extent, for what it’s worth.

    Once again, thank you–this discussion has actually been really helpful for me in developing greater understanding, and for that and for your willingness to engage, even when I’m sure you must have felt piled on at times, I am grateful.

  • Randy Owens

    Maybe I was reading too much into the article, but I think letting
    people go on their bullshit in the interest of keeping the peace when it
    doesn’t seem that important is a universal human experience.

    If they think the notion of executing these parents is “not that important,” then yeah, I’m pretty willing to say that they could stand to learn some compassion, too.

  • AnonaMiss

    Why does Disqus hate formatting?

  • AnonaMiss

    And thank you for getting past my manner!

    All of the hugs!