The old-fashioned term was “reactionary,” used to describe conservatives who went beyond fighting to preserve the status quo. Reactionaries are politicians who want to return to a status quo ante, the way things used to be.
What is particularly noxious about reactionaries is that their nostalgia is for a past that never was. Reactionary conservatives tout a past they’ve “Cloroxed” (to borrow Kristen Gillibrand’s wonderful plan for the post-Trump White House); a fake past they’ve cleansed of the crimes they encouraged or enabled or committed to make those days gone by the way they liked them.
Take Donald Trump’s reactionary romance for an America when coal and White men ruled the earth. Trump’s coal is the “black gold” of the mine-owners, not the aphrodisiac of greed and exploitation that killed so many coalminers and badly wounded the global environment.
Trump’s White men celebrate their competitive successes, often made possible by sexist and racist exclusion, and ignore the crimes they committed to succeed — rigged-to-fail mortgages, packaged as rigged-to-fail financial instruments, the hide-the-shrinkage packaging of everyday consumer products, their glass ceilings, sexual abuse and racist brutality.
Superb investigative reporting by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker exposed the serial abuses of the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, whose downfall was no more than the starting point for a #metoo movement that forced Americans to look at Weinstein’s sexual bullying in the context of his long career, in a Hollywood that long-tolerated such misbehavior, that considered the phrase “casting couch” a cute cliché and not a sexual waterboard.
Women, who for reasons of fear, shame or survival in a cynical, sexist world, remained silent are speaking out and many women and some men are listening and trying to learn.
#blacklivesmatter has done a similar service in forcing Americans to see that the status quo of policing has long condoned and covered up racial profiling and racist violence, a repeated pattern of avoidable, unnecessary, unlawful killings of Black men by police officers. Change can’t happen without recognition of why change is needed.
The mass murder of 22 people, most of them with Mexican roots, at an El Paso Mall sounds a similar alarm, in an all-too-similar historical context. White people killing Mexican or Mexican-American people in Texas has a long history. More than ever before Americans of Mexican or Latin-American descent are ready to call out that history … and call out an even longer, equally egregious history of racist incitement by White American Leaders, White American Presidents.
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team, based in Albuquerque, NM.