Why are Republicans so cruel to the poor? Paul Ryan’s profound hypocrisy stands for a deeper problem – Chauncey DeVega MAR 23, 2017 02:00 AM PDT


Paul Ryan has dreamed of slashing Medicaid since his keg-party days — and that blithe hostility is widespread

Why are Republicans so cruel to the poor? Paul Ryan's profound hypocrisy stands for a deeper problem

Republican Paul Ryan, like most other members of the United States Congress, is a millionaire.

Christa Patton is 68 years old. She is frail and no longer able to leave her home. She lives on a fixed income. Patton told Van Jones on a recent episode of his CNN show “The Messy Truth” that she would not be able to eat without the Meals on Wheels program.

Paul Ryan is the speaker of the United States House of Representatives. By his own account, in college he used to hang out with his friends and drink beer while sharing his dreams of cutting Medicaid. When Ryan was 15 years old, his father died from a heart attack caused by alcoholism. Ryan and his family then received his father’s Social Security survivor’s benefits. Ryan used that money to attend college. This was not the only money that Paul Ryan received from federal government. His family built its wealth from receiving government contracts.

Like his idol Ayn Rand (who argued against the very idea of government and the commons yet received social security and Medicare). Paul Ryan has combined meanness, cruelty and callousness towards the weak and the vulnerable with gross and unapologetic hypocrisy.

Republicans like Ryan — along with the millionaires and billionaires who comprise Donald Trump’s Cabinet and inner circle — literally want to take food, shelter and health care away from poor people like Christa Patton. Today’s Republicans view these Americans as useless eaters to be disposed of by means both passive and active.

Republican Paul Ryan, like most other members of the United States Congress, is a millionaire.

Christa Patton is 68 years old. She is frail and no longer able to leave her home. She lives on a fixed income. Patton told Van Jones on a recent episode of his CNN show “The Messy Truth” that she would not be able to eat without the Meals on Wheels program.

Paul Ryan is the speaker of the United States House of Representatives. By his own account, in college he used to hang out with his friends and drink beer while sharing his dreams of cutting Medicaid. When Ryan was 15 years old, his father died from a heart attack caused by alcoholism. Ryan and his family then received his father’s Social Security survivor’s benefits. Ryan used that money to attend college. This was not the only money that Paul Ryan received from federal government. His family built its wealth from receiving government contracts.

Like his idol Ayn Rand (who argued against the very idea of government and the commons yet received social security and Medicare). Paul Ryan has combined meanness, cruelty and callousness towards the weak and the vulnerable with gross and unapologetic hypocrisy.

Republicans like Ryan — along with the millionaires and billionaires who comprise Donald Trump’s Cabinet and inner circle — literally want to take food, shelter and health care away from poor people like Christa Patton. Today’s Republicans view these Americans as useless eaters to be disposed of by means both passive and active.

It is normal to feel aghast at and disgusted by the Republican Party’s war on the poor. The more challenging and perhaps even more disturbing task is to ask why today’s conservatives feel such antipathy, disregard and hostility towards poor and other vulnerable Americans. Certainly greed and a slavish devotion to a revanchist right-wing ideology are part of the answer. But they may not be sufficient

Conservatives are more likely to exhibit social dominance and bullying behavior. This is a function of their authoritarian tendencies. The election of Donald Trump  exemplifies this phenomenon.

American political elites often use language that robs poor and other marginalized people of their individuality, humanity and dignity. This language also creates a type of social distance between “middle class” or “normal” Americans and the economically disadvantaged.

Conservatism is a type of motivated social cognition that by its very nature is hostile to those groups located on the lower rungs of the social hierarchy.

Conservatives are more likely than liberals or progressives to believe in what is known as the “just world fallacy,” where people who suffer misfortune are viewed as somehow deserving their fates. Conservatives are also more likely than liberals or progressives not to use systems-level thinking as a means of understanding that individuals do not exist separate and apart from society.  Conservatives are also more likely to defend social inequality as “fair and legitimate.”

Social psychologists have shown that, in effect, poor people are invisible to the rich and upper classes.

The psychological dynamic known as the “diffusion of responsibility,” in which individuals tend to ignore people who are in crisis — especially if they are perceived to be a member of a different social group, race, ethnicity or class — also encourages a lack of empathy and concern. It undercuts policies meant to offer direct assistance to vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities. A perverse corollary to the “diffusion of responsibility” can also be used to legitimate punitive policies that target specific individuals and groups.

The myth of meritocracy and its cousin the myth of individualism exert a powerful hold over many Americans. This is especially true among conservatives. Social scientists and others have repeatedly demonstrated that American society is not a true meritocracy. Other research has shown that intergenerational income and class mobility are also relatively uncommon in the United States.

Likewise, the concept of the self-made person whose success is a function of “rugged individualism” is also a fantasy better suited to its dime-store origins than as a serious way of understanding American society. Nevertheless, these cultural mythologies do the practical political and social work of legitimizing the Republican war on the poor.

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