What happened to compassionate conservatism? Did it ever really exist?
In a meeting last week, Josie Molina, an 11 year-old Hispanic child whose father is being deported, asked Tennessee Republican representative Scott Desjarlais if anything could be done to help her family in this time of crisis. He said "no". The crowd of Tea Party members enthusiastically endorsed his answer with clapping and screams of support. Josie Molina looked deflated, wilted, and heartbroken.
The Republican Party faithful have cheered for the idea of using electric fences to kill "illegal" immigrants. The Republican Party faithful have booed gay soldiers on live television. The Republican Party faithful have cheered on someone dying because the latter did not have insurance.
The Tea Party GOP are a death cult. They are also, for all intent and purposes, a White Identity organization, one that is willing to betray all norms of good governance and consensus in order to advance a narrow set of interests which are sold to their public through the politics of white racial resentment and white grievance mongering.
When we survey the various grotesqueries of human history, there is a fundamental question that must be asked: how can human beings treat each other so badly?
To enslave people by the millions, commit genocide and mass rape, steal and destroy the land, territory, and property of others, murder defenseless children and others by bombing them, using the machete, the gas chamber, the machine gun, or by hand, would seem to require some extraordinary act of human will.
Modernity would suggest that such acts are all too easy and common to commit. They are legitimated by the very processes at work when Scott Desjarlais and his supporters cheered the suffering of a little girl: you destroy the shared sense of belonging which grounds human empathy, and thus you create a class of people now marked as some type of "Other".
Josie Molina is an alien outsider to the White Right and the Tea Party GOP. Because she is racialized as being "different", her father is a type of perpetual stranger. For the Authoritarian, especially those in the Tea Party who have now internalized the idea of "white politics" and "white group interests" as being synonymous with "real America", those who are not white--or overly identified with Whiteness through a type of "honorary" status (see George Zimmerman or Clarence Thomas)--are not worthy of dignity or respect.
Once more, the word "herrenvolk" is a perfect descriptor for the Tea Party GOP. The lack of empathy towards a non-white child is a means of reinforcing how the fruits of democracy and liberty are demarcated and limited for conservatives by the color line, and through a sense of "us" and "them", in post civil rights America. Ultimately, if the Tea Party GOP are the herrenvolk, Josie Molina, her father, and people of color, more broadly, are the untermenschen.
Beyond conjecture or mere observation, research in social psychology reveals the power of racial difference to influence how white people perceive and respond to the suffering of non-whites.
For example, The Journal of Experimental Psychology reports that:
“Previous research shows people are less likely to feel connected to people outside their own ethnic groups, and we wanted to know why,” says Gutsell. “What we found is that there is a basic difference in the way peoples’ brains react to those from other ethnic backgrounds. Observing someone of a different race produced significantly less motor-cortex activity than observing a person of one’s own race. In other words, people were less likely to mentally simulate the actions of other-race than same-race people”. The trend was even more pronounced for participants who scored high on a test measuring subtle racism, says Gutsell.The researchers who conducted the experiment made the following disturbing discovery:
“The so-called mirror-neuron-system is thought to be an important building block for empathy by allowing people to ‘mirror’ other people’s actions and emotions; our research indicates that this basic building block is less reactive to people who belong to a different race than you,” says Inzlicht.
Typically, when people observe others perform a simple task, their motor cortex region fires similarly to when they are performing the task themselves. However, the UofT research team, led by PhD student Jennifer Gutsell and Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Inzlicht, found that participants’ motor cortex was significantly less likely to fire when they watched the visible minority men perform the simple task. In some cases when participants watched the non-white men performing the task, their brains actually registered as little activity as when they watched a blank screen.Powerful. How can one have feelings or empathy for someone when they are quite literally invisible to your brain?
Could such a finding help to explain the ruthless efficiency of the plantation, the death camp, or any other social order where race and labor and class are synonymous and co-mingled?
Inzlicht and Gutsell's findings are part of a larger social phenomenon where it is assumed that black people do not feel pain in the same way as white people. This has broad implications. As reported by NPR:
Sure, sure. You know, I think that, look, if we can see that people generally assume that black people feel less pain, you can imagine all of the different social problems that this explains. One area is healthcare, but it's also the criminal justice system. We know that race and empathy impact jury decisions, and we know that black defendants receive harsher sentences for the same crimes. But in particular, if we take a close look at the juvenile justice system, what we start to see is that young youth of color are being tried much more aggressively than white youth. And why is this? We've also seen research that it's because there's a certain perception that black juveniles are not treated as innocents.Racial ideologies are not only a matter of public policy and the distribution of resources. Racial ideologies locate individuals and groups in relation to one another, and by doing so to help determine "who is the most" and "who is the least' among us in a given society.
They're not treated with compassion. But at every stage, they're treated much more like adults and therefore subjected to harsher treatments, tried in adult courts and given adult sentences for things that, for white students or white juveniles, would be just written off as perhaps pranks or something that could be a slap on the wrist.
The status and sense of being the herrenvolk--the chosen people--is a powerful social force. It can mask hypocrisy (To point. Scott Desjarlais is a criminal who is lecturing a child about the inviolate nature of the law) and legitimate contradictions (the Tea Party faithful want to keep social security and government resources for "people like them", but to simultaneously deny it to those "undeserving" black and brown folks).
For the Tea Party members who cheered the breaking up of a child's family, the latter is not really an innocent. Because she is some type of Other, Josie Molina is subjected to a process of "adultification".
By comparison, a white child would be protected and fawned over. She would be in need of help at a minimum; in the best case scenario, a white child would be given assistance and her family made an exception for an "unfair" law.
And just as black youth are not allowed to be either children or innocent in the eyes of the White Gaze and the State, Josie Molina must be cruelly introduced to the realities of the adult world. In all, and as we saw with the smearing of Trayvon Martin by the Right-wing media, one of White Supremacy's most powerful weapons is its capacity to rob black and brown youth of their innocence.
Scott Desjarlais and his White-Right herrenvolk cheerleaders who celebrated the deportation of Josie Molina's father are dream stealers. They may have a sense of empathy for some people...but not for those little brown kids like Josie Molina and their families.