Leopards, faces, etc.

Leopards, faces, etc. December 17, 2022

Atrios often makes this point about “The general problem of, ‘you can’t tell people just how horrible Republican policies are because they won’t believe you.'”

The particular example he offers there is about Tennessee’s no-exceptions abortion ban. Most Tennesseans — including most Republicans and most white evangelicals — think there should be, at the very least, exceptions permitting abortion in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Yet most are also unaware that the bans enacted in the state do not allow for such exceptions.

As Atrios argues, when you try to point this out, most people won’t believe you, because they resist the notion that Republican lawmakers are that extreme, that harmful, and that cruel. They react as though you’re making it up — smearing the GOP with hyperbole to paint them as out-of-touch extremists rather than just accurately describing what they are actually doing.

I think the bind here is even more complicated than what Atrios suggests. When you attempt to accurately and dispassionately state what the Tennessee Republican majority is actually doing, supporters of the Tennessee GOP don’t just perceive this as a hyperbolic attack on those lawmakers, but as a personal attack directed at them due to their past-and-continuing support for those lawmakers. Feeling attacked, they grow defensive and shut down, making them unable to hear or to perceive the reality of the laws their votes have made possible.

“Tennessee’s abortion ban allows no exceptions for rape or incest,” you tell them, truthfully. But they can’t manage to accept that.

No, no, no!” they think, “That’s not what I wanted — not what I voted for. I only wanted to prohibit and punish the use of abortion as birth control by lazy, wanton hussies who’d rather kill their babies than keep their legs together. I only wanted to stop the indefensible forms of abortion that exist in my head. I didn’t intend for that to have anything to do with ectopic pregnancies, or with forcing responsible married women to carry dead fetuses to term, or with requiring an 11-year-old rape victim to bear a child her body is incapable of bearing safely!”

No matter what pains you take to avoid any hint of their complicity in the harmful outcomes of their “pro-life” voting, they’re already way ahead of you — recognizing that complicity themselves but finding it too unbearable to accept. To allow any blame for these cruel policies to fall on the Republican majority they helped elect would be to accept their own share of that blame, and so they reflexively deny that what is, in fact, the case could possibly be the case.

It’s not simply the hypocrisy of Adrian Bott’s classic joke about “the Leopard’s Eating People’s Faces Party” — the Niemöller-esque tragedy of personally reaping the consequences of what one has sown. To their partial credit, these folks are — correctly — recoiling in horror at the fact of such consequences even for other people who are not them. They voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party but somehow never imagined that would result in anybody’s actual faces actually being eaten by leopards. Attempt to confront them with the reality of the faces eaten as a consequence of their votes and they can’t bear the thought of it being real.

And then, to silence that unbearable nagging doubt that their quest to assure themselves that they are The Good People has harmed others, they double-down, reinforcing their support for the Republican majority and empowering it to enshrine even more horrors as law. When the party they support moves on to ban contraception and no-fault divorce and refugee resettlement the pattern will repeat itself.

That wasn’t what I personally wanted so it can’t possibly be true!” After which they will vote for an even more extreme form of that thing they didn’t really want to see happen. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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