As an alternative, I would like to call your attention to this quote from Mitt Romney which may have slipped under your radar a few months ago, before being picked up by the website Politico today. It is just as problematic, if not more so, than Romney's race-baiting:
“I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare,” Ryan said at the time. “When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”There is so much to unpack here. We know that Romney believes in Ayn Rand's vision of a bare minimum government where the weak are surplus humans to be disposed of as a drain on the John Galts of the world. This is the context for Romney's comment. It is also helpful to foreground how language works through unstated assumptions about social reality, is dependent upon a set of shared understandings between the speaker and audience, and exists within a broader context of styles, codes, symbols, affect, and genre that together create meaning.
Romney is proceeding from the assumption that America, a country with extreme wealth inequality, is not already divided. Moreover, Romney is suggesting that extreme class inequality is both natural and desirable.
Ryan's use of "successful" also demands some analysis. The idea of "success" in a capitalist society, and as deployed by an extreme Right-wing conservative, is heavy with ideological meaning--it captures unstated assumptions about hard work, the Horatio Alger myth, American exceptionalism, and the myth of meritocracy.
The much recycled right-wing talking point about "class warfare" captures many of these sentiments--it also ignores how the economic war in this country has been unidirectional, where the rich have seen record growths in wealth and income, while the middle and working classes have been eviscerated over the last forty years.
As framed by Romney's brand of embrace of neoconservatism/neoliberalism, success is defined as accumulative, financially enriching, monetary behavior.
What of artists, school teachers, stay at home parents, home healthcare workers, bus drivers, and working class people, who will never rise to the level of the top 1% of earners? Romney is presenting a very narrow view of successful behavior and ignoring how those who are the most rich, robber barons like him for example, have made their fortunes through anti-social, community destroying behavior. Their financial success was individual; their financial success also made it much more difficult for others to maintain a basic standard of living and human dignity.
Romney makes a second important move in his speech. The relationship between "success" and being a member of the "1 percent" is taken as inexorable, and a logical, fair, and correct outcome that is the result of one individual's hard work and risk-taking. Within the Right-wing political imagination, success is just a choice that people make. Conservatives do not believe in the power of structures or social institutions to impact life chances and/or life outcomes. These priors are the basis of the Right's repeated deployment of divisive themes such as "welfare queens," "social parasites," and "bad culture" in their political rhetoric and policy making about the poor and people of color.
Romney's speech is ultimately situated within a part of a larger neoliberal, conservative political discourse: here you "choose" to be either poor or successful; if an individual makes the wrong choice, society then has no obligation of care, concern, safety, or protection towards them.
Because Romney normalizes extreme class inequality, the question of means and chance are not introduced into his conceptual schema. For example, what of those who were born into money? Are they successful? In the United States, most wealth is inherited. Are those people who hit the sperm lotto "successful?" These are questions that Romney's political worldview would have a difficult time internalizing or responding to.
The last portion of Romney's speech is where I need some of your help. He suggests that, "you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God." What is he signalling to here?
I have a few thoughts.
One, this phrase is Romney's effort to marshal a very narrow type of patriotism and nationalism which the Tea Party GOP has skillfully attempted to monopolize as exclusive virtues of the populist, reactionary right. Contemporary conservatives manifest many authoritarian tendencies. Mitt Romney is simply riffing off of the pledge of allegiance to get a cheap high from an audience that is primed to respond to such appeals.
One of the goals of Romney's address is to validate his public, reinforce their sense of political community, and inspire them to contribute time, energy, and money to the Tea Party GOP. Slogans and phrases that signal to their sense of "us versus them," and that they are unique and special guardians of the "American tradition," are means to this end.
Two, in America, capitalism is imagined by the general public as being inseparable from democracy (this belief ignores the many different types of capitalism that successfully exist around the world).
Every society has to reproduce itself. Consequently, the United States has been transformed into a market democracy where citizens are treated as consumers who choose between a very narrow set of political actors in a set of ostensibly democratic rituals every so many years.
The conflation of American style capitalism with democracy also overlooks how class inequality, extremes of wealth, and the excessive influence of money in politics, can lead to a plutocracy that is actually anti-democratic. For the Right, the Tea Party GOP, and the general public, capitalism equals democracy. By implication, any person who questions the impact of class inequality on a democracy is smearing "the successful." Those people who raise uncomfortable questions are deemed "unAmerican" and outside of the political community.
Third, Mitt Romney's mention of "God" is a rhetorical device that is common in American politics. However, given the broader context of his speech, the New Right's embrace of extreme libertarianism, and an electoral coalition that has mated together Christian Dominionists, Right-wing corporatists, racially resentment and reactionary whites, and the plutocrats, could Ryan's use of "God" be a hint at something else?
The Tea Party GOP, the base of which David Brody describes as "teavangelicals," have a political agenda that involves destroying our country's standing political and social consensus surrounding the necessity of a social safety net, and redefining the role of religion in government. Many of the New Right are also theocrats who want to restore a "lost," "Christian nation."
Religious faith colors and overrides empirical reality and reason for this public. The corporatists have been able to manipulate conservative voters into working against their own political and economic self-interests. Class inequality serves the interests of the financier class and plutocrats. Framing these unequal outcomes as God's will serves the 1 percent and makes sense within the theocratic, fundamentalist worldview that guides the Christian Dominionists and Evangelical wing of the Republican Party.
Could Romney be suggesting that God wants there to be rich people and poor people? Moreover, that some people are "successful" is actually God's will, and its way of bestowing divine grace on those most "saved" and "virtuous?"
This sounds like old school Calvinism to me. Am I wrong?