The overthrow of Roe v Wade in America is just the start. And Australia’s Right, from the political figures connected by think tanks to the conspiracy-radicalised internet subculture, draws its ideas and strategies from the American Right.
It is incumbent upon us to watch that nation’s collapse as a warning, not just as a prequel to a dystopian blockbuster trilogy.
It is critical to avoid dismissing shocking concepts as fringe. What begins as an outlier idea moves to the centre of mainstream discussion in America and beyond. The “norm cascade” that Trump enabled has meant that it is not just, say, the creep in the office uttering something previously unutterable. People with great cultural capital are making unthinkable ideas “normal.” State politicians are beginning to ask for the death penalty for women who access abortions, and senior Republicans have begun discussing making abortion illegal nationwide when they next hold power.
The Texas attorney general has signalled his willingness to take a law making homosexuality illegal through to the Supreme Court should he have the chance. A Republican candidate in South Carolina’s primaries recently called for LGBTQI Americans to be pursued for treason, and executed. He received a quarter of the vote.
The Texas Republican Party platform, launched this Pride Month, named LGBTQI lives “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Approximately 340 bills targeting LGBTQI existence have been introduced across America this year. The leader of the Christian Fascist organisation Protect Texas Kids tweeted, “Let’s start rounding up people who participate in Pride events,” and other figures on the Right have begun imagining a world where it is legal to hunt LGBTQI people.
Blue states are reacting by offering safe haven for safe reproductive healthcare. California is in the process of passing a sanctuary bill to allow families of trans youth sanctuary. Should the bill be signed, their own deeply Republican state will be blocked from extraditing the parents to face life sentence felony charges. These sanctuaries would also block Republican states’ custody orders to remove children of trans families from their parents.
Vigilante activity and abuse of LGBTQI individuals have surged. People have begun working out how to leave their lives behind to move state or are making sure to keep passports current.
The grotesque Westboro “Baptist Church” used to protest gleefully at dead soldier’s funerals because the degeneracy of America meant that they deserved to die. Now Jordan Peterson, one of the “thought” leaders of the Right, has said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is justified by Ukraine’s connection with the degenerate US. Echoing Putin’s own bigoted justification is shocking enough; the fringe, this shows too, has become mainstream.
The patriarchal and “traditional role” passions of the radical Right make women and children lightening rods to channel “moral” panic. They generate disinformation to suggest cis women are endangered by having trans women in their spaces. They abhor trans men for making women unavailable to them. Above all, they depict LGBTQI existence as a threat to children, since “won’t someone think of the children” is the most primal emotive persuasive strategy.
For this reason, schools have been the focus of much of the legislation and protest. Teachers are depicted as “groomers” and “perverts” for accepting a non-binary student’s pronouns or mentioning the existence of people who aren’t vanilla.
Christopher Rufo, the American who invented the CRT panic, where he depicted schools as teaching Critical Race Theory, found a wellspring of emotional energy into which to tap. Critical Race Theory is a law school concept where academics study the impact of laws that were designed to disadvantage Black people. It was never a school study. Labelling any study of history that aims to represent the balanced truth – rather than bowdlerised pap – as CRT, however, has given the Right a tool to make teachers’ lives a nightmare.
One Texas committee recommended teaching slavery in elementary school as “involuntary relocation.” Now Ohio is introducing a law to require teaching “both sides” of the Holocaust.
Groups of disinformation-radicalised parents and outsiders appear at school board meetings in threatening fashion to intimidate staff. Issues about sexuality and gender are Rufo’s new target. This whips up further the Trump base’s QAnon radicalisation; they believe children are being abducted, raped, murdered and/or farmed for youth-extending hormones. Now they are targeting their teachers as the key threat. Tucker Carlson, for example, asked why fathers aren’t beating up teachers for discussing anything connected with LGBTQI existence.
State school teachers, already exhausted by the pandemic and extreme underfunding, are leaving the profession. This suits the Republicans fine because the dismantling of public education is a key project of a number of their main funders. Often emerging from fossil fuel wealth, they want a tame Christian education that does not teach critical thinking or any curriculum that isn’t a mythologised version of life that reinforces “tradition.”
Any curriculum that includes the hard facts about our settler colonial nations’ histories is anathema to the Right, as is acknowledgment of diversity. Any curriculum that includes recognition that people who are not straight exist is debauched. Any curriculum that includes the scientific facts of the unfolding climate emergency is, unsurprisingly given the money behind this campaign, disgracefully woke.
Schools that emerge beyond the campaigns will teach a curriculum that celebrates White Christian Patriarchal Civilisation. Christian charter schools, home schools and private schools will suffice. If children from disadvantaged areas miss out, the Republicans don’t care. Augmented by outlawing abortion, they will create a homegrown underclass to do the worst jobs for the worst wages without the need for migrant workforces.
America’s problems are not the same as our problems. These escalating campaigns that are right now stripping millions of Americans of equality and bodily autonomy are minority positions inflicted upon the majority after decades of strategising to break the flawed democratic processes underpinning the American republic.
In Australia, the Right faces different challenges to impose minority rule. It sees its best chance to regain power and reinstate the steps it had been taking to break our democracy in culture wars. These “moral” panics are distractions meant to disguise the fact that the Right can’t win on a platform of tax cuts for the rich and deregulation.
The new campaign to attack schools for being “woke” as signalled by Dutton, Sky News and the IPA’s Class Action campaign signal their intent to replicate the American crippling of schools and silencing of teachers. The IPA, like the American equivalents, is largely funded by fossil fuel figures who naturally do not want students taught to understand climate science. The harnessing of traditionalists scared of change, combined with radical Religious Right Christian Nationalist bodies, offers the LNP a new base that might offer electoral success.
Australian women and our allies have already marched on Australian streets to decry the Dobbs decision in the US Supreme Court. We must all be ready, particularly the straight majority, to stand up to any efforts to expand the attacks on our reproductive autonomy into the broader range of bodily autonomy.
Trans identity, weaponised by Morrison, is a wedge to expand into an extensive attack on LGBTQI Australians. Dutton has signalled his readiness to follow culture war politics as far as it will take him.
We must stand up alongside our targeted compatriots. We unite and defend, or we will all be trapped in the Right’s patriarchal nostalgia, and stripped of our equality.
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