Democracy Under Assault
There has been a concerted campaign of linguistic treachery on the right, resulting in degraded public dialogue and diminished U.S. democracy. Framing issues to disempower historically marginalized groups, right-wing partisans dismiss issues of poverty, abuse and injustice, and instead impute all problems to the moral failure of women, minorities, gays and immigrants. On a 1996 "Think Tank" program, David Kopel of the Independence Institute pronounced gun control laws "dangerous" because, he said, they divert attention from welfare and single parenthood as the "primary cause of crime." Tom DeLay directly linked school shootings to birth control, small families, working women, teaching evolution and the absence of prescribed school prayer. The fiction circulated by the right that women cannot become pregnant from rape ("fear prevents ovulation," they say) conveniently blames women for their own abuse - another conceit that has historically protected perpetrators and punished victims.
Among "Christian nation" advocates, Pat Robertson calls church-state separation "a lie of the left," and other religions "demonic and satanic." In a fit of rhetorical excess, he likened oppression of U.S. Christians to "that of Jews in Hitler’s Germany." Further subverting the Constitution, the Robertson faithful name tolerance for other religions "intolerance for Christianity," and gay civil rights an "infringement of the freedom of religion." When Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a bill that would have provided emergency contraceptive information to rape victims, he called it "a violation of the beliefs" of church-owned hospitals. Such verbal sleights of hand elevate one religious sect above all others, totally eviscerating constitutional protections of individual rights and religious freedom.
Because oppressors now claim the mantle of oppression, it was not surprising that the investigation into religious discrimination at the Air Force Academy drew immediate accusations of "reverse discrimination" against Christians. Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind) lashed out at Democrats whose proposed bill condemned "abusive religious proselytizing" at the academy. The bill was a response to accounts like that of anti-Semitic slurs directed at a Jewish cadet; a chaplain urging condemnation of fellow cadets "who are not born again, [destined] to burn in hell"; and the branding of a cadet as "heathen" for failure to attend religious services. The football coach further commanded religious allegiance by hanging a banner in the locker room that read "I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." On the House floor, Hostettler railed against "those who would eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage," accusing Democrats of "demonizing Christians," part of a "long war on Christianity in America."
The right-wing feint of "Christian persecution," like that of "liberal media," is intended to distract from the fact that the culture war raging in America has been declared by biblical literalists against mainstream Christians, adherents of other religions, and secularists. Refinement of wedge politics using language that is spun into Orwellian distortions and mind-bending inconsistencies serves the right’s intention of silencing and rendering irrelevant the political opposition.
Always inconsistent, ultraconservatives have turned on a linguistic dime 180 degrees to achieve the moment’s purpose. Even as David Horowitz advances his Academic Bill of Rights, ostensibly for "more tolerance on campus," his group, Students for Academic Freedom have sought to ban some books from the University of North Carolina reading list, including Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America— a book judged by the right "anti-Christian" for its mention of liberation theology; and anti-capitalist" because it "blames corporations" for the plight of the poor.
There is a need to reclaim language and refute distorted religion at the heart of contemporary culture wars. It is no longer sufficient to make the world safe for democracy - we now must make democracy safe for the world.