Right-wing culture of cruelty

In 2013 Bill Moyers had a guest, Henry Giroux, who made an excellent and depressing case for America’s Culture of Cruelty [1]. In a materialistic society that monetizes everything and reduces every encounter to a transaction over monetary value, where the super-wealthy consolidate ever greater say in our laws, most of us are expendable, worth only as much as our net worth. Cruelty may be carried out with impunity against people without economic or political power, that’s what “winners” and “losers” is all about. That’s just the sad reality, for losers — winners get rewarded, losers lose, no mystery there.

America, with our divisive, concession-free, attack ad-based politics, is no less cruel as a culture in 2021, despite the growing humane impulse of many of us in the face of cascading evidence of brutal inequality, and outright state brutality, during a deadly pandemic that calls on each of us to summon our higher natures, to consider others, to finally end these ongoing plagues.

Instead, we have unified, irrational, bare knuckled political calculation in the GOP’s uncompromising resistance to voting for even a long overdue Covid-19 relief bill. The GOP is united in refusing to endorse vaccines and basic safety precautions, on the depraved theory that if there is less misery in the country and less Americans die of the pandemic it will make Biden and his Democrat [sic] party look good and hurt Republican chances at the polls in 2022.

People rightfully fear cruelty, particularly when it has the power to harm behind it, hence the vindictive Trump’s continued hold on the party he took over after humiliating and exhausting all opponents to win the nomination and the Electoral College in 2016. He has demonstrated over and over his zeal to punish, to make examples of, to humiliate, to pardon friends and attack and vilify enemies.

Predictably, and depressingly, the 6-3 right-wing Supreme Court that McConnell orchestrated (it would be 5-4 today if Merrick Garland had had a hearing and confirmation vote in 2016), with the three Koch-vetted and dark-money supported extremists appointed by Trump, is marching ahead with quiet, decisive cruelty.

The other day Brett “Boof” Kavanaugh authored a 6-3 decision making the law of the land that teenagers convicted of violent crimes can be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole, as long as a judge exercises “discretion,” considering the sentence and deciding it’s appropriate.

Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post, in an op-ed called At the Supreme Court, a tale of two Bretts:

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has enjoyed a life of comfort and privilege, the son of a Beltway lobbyist and the product of the Ivy League. Mississippi prisoner Brett Jones has endured a life of misery and abuse, the son of an alcoholic father who brutalized his mother and a stepfather who beat him.

As fate would have it, their lives converged this week: In an opinion released Thursday, Brett Kavanaugh upheld Brett Jones’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his grandfather just 23 days after his 15th birthday. (And, yes, let us pause here to note a certain irony in the fact that the opinion was written by a justice whose confirmation hearings featured discussion about how people can change after high school.)

The 6-to-3 ruling in Jones v. Mississippi was notable not only for the juxtaposition of the two Bretts. It offered a snapshot of a court transformed by the arrival of Kavanaugh and two other conservative justices named by President Donald Trump. And it demonstrated how a conservative majority bent on reshaping the law can do so without the showy fanfare of explicitly overruling precedents.


According to the punitive right, rehabilitation and personal growth are myths, when applied to poor people. A fifteen year-old with a history of abuse, from a family of limited means, convicted of murder, sentenced to life without parole, just has to continue to be punished, without hope of anything beyond a long prison life, no matter what profound changes he may have undergone while locked up. Fair is fair.

A fifteen year-old from a wealthy family must not be made to unduly suffer, must not have his life “ruined” decades later by being confronted with his unfitness for a Supreme Court seat, for creepy things he was credibly accused of doing at that immature age.

Kavanaugh’s personal unfitness to serve on the Supreme Court was not only his failure to accept responsibility for his youthful bad behavior, it was even more powerfully demonstrated by his angry, tearful, paranoid partisan screed about a cabal of Clinton-assassins and powerful Jews intent on lying about him and spending millions in dark money to keep him off the nation’s highest court, thereby ruining his life [3].

The right is always supremely generous extending mercy and understanding to their own in this game of cruelty. After all, who among us, at a tender age, has not drunkenly fallen on top of a cute much younger girl, in a locked room, started groping her and been too drunk to actually recall it years later? Could happen to anybody at Georgetown Prep! And, besides, it’s totally, totally different from killing someone at fifteen just because you were “abused” by your stepfather.

Makes me think of that study of political orientation that was done a few years ago. Liberals tend to be optimists about human nature, conservatives are pessimists. Liberals skew toward forgiveness and permissiveness, conservatives toward retribution and punishing. Liberals tend to seek to understand the reasons for violence and strategize about how to change conditions that produce it, conservatives prefer to keep things exactly as they are and harshly punish those who deserve it.

Boof Kavanaugh, who deliberately lied several times during his confirmation hearing (including about the definition of “boof” on his elite prep-school yearbook page– everyone knows it’s having a tube inserted into your ass and having vodka poured in — Boof said it was an inside joke about his flatulence, LOL!), and was voted into his lifetime post by a party-line 50-48 vote, the smallest margin since 1881 [2] (and only after McConnell nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations to allow an up or down vote), is a mean son-of-a-bitch, no matter how many millions in public relations dollars from dark money sources went into crafting the image of the gentle, woman and girl protecting junior high school girls’ basketball coach and religious churchgoer during the bitter fight for his nomination. Recall that the Jesuits of America eventually called for the religious Catholic Kavanaugh to withdraw his name from consideration, and that instead he angrily and tearfully cited a vast, evil left-wing conspiracy, in his defense of not having his life ruined by liars.

Here’s what the face of that gentle man, and supremely qualified, unbiased right wing lifetime justice, looked like, when he was challenged by liberal partisans during his confirmation hearings. It is the entitled face of our culture of cruelty.

Brett Kavanaugh testimony – viral photo captures 'horrified' faces of women  behind tearful judge as he denies sex attack claims

[1] Giroux writes:

… a growing culture of cruelty brought about by the death of concessions in politics — a politics now governed by the ultra-rich and mega corporations that has no allegiance to local politics and produces a culture infused with a self-righteous coldness that takes delight in the suffering of others. Power is now separated from politics and floats, unchecked and uncaring.


[2] The article linked above notes:

Two of the oldest justices on the court — Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both nominated by President Bill Clinton — were confirmed with near-unanimous support that would seem nearly impossible today. Breyer was confirmed in 1994 with an 87-9 vote; one year earlier, the Senate confirmed Ginsburg 96-3.


[3] Part of the remarks that he claimed to have written himself, that should have disqualified him for his Supreme Court position, particularly since millions in right-wing “opposition group” money supported the well-organized (calculated and orchestrated, one might say) campaign to put him onto the court:

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