No Beliefs, Just Intentions
Victims of abuse create language to name both abuse and abusers. Inevitably, abusers use that same language to deny what they're doing. Navigating false equivalence in an age of rising fascism.
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Two families got fed up and moved away. The Nobles of Iowa moved to blue Minnesota. The Huckinses of Oregon moved to red Missouri. That’s how the story starts.
Ah yes. The president is being impeached, even though there exists no case for impeachment. He is old, the president, and his cognition is impaired—so the story goes—while his opponent, former president Donald Trump, who is only 4 years younger and is as ignorant of all matters to do with the office he seeks as he is incurious of basic human decency, is—so the story goes—youthful and sharp as a tack, and possessed of the sort of musculature that would qualify him to appear in action movies. Trump has openly announced his intention to become a fascist dictator if he re-achieves the presidency, promising to use the military to crush dissent, vowing to use his standing army of fascist judges and police to seize power and disband large swaths of the government, and swearing to purge the courts and the government and the nation of undesirable elements. Last night he literally quoted Adolf Hitler, telling his pink-faced crowd that immigrants were poisoning the nation’s blood. The language he’s used to marshal his support among mostly white, mostly Christian Americans can only be described as dehumanizing and eliminationist, the sort of talk that usually precedes mass killings.
His party, the Republican Party, claims that it stands for liberty and against government overreach, while it forces women to carry stillborn babies to term, and threatens doctors with murder raps; it claims to be pro-life while causing maternal death rates to climb by triple digits; it claims it stands for safety but meanwhile near-daily gun massacres, which are preventable, are not only not prevented but are encouraged by radicalizing eliminationist language from its elected officials and propagandists; it claims it stands for free speech while it bans books and curriculums and sets its not-quite-yet-literal crosshairs on defunding college-level programs designed to critically investigate the sort of entrenched systems of injustice that it maintains and defends; claims it stands for equality while criminalizing and demonizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity programs; claims it stands for public safety while slashing regulations that protect the public from a polluted environment and predatory practices; claims it is anti-terror while defending and even celebrating white supremacist terrorists, and terrorizing librarians and teachers and professors and medical professionals and unhoused people and gay people and trans people, forcing them to live in fear, forcing them to flee their homes and states.
Trump is facing indictment, by the way; he is charged with dozens of counts of federal crimes which include conspiracy to overturn an election, and mishandling state secrets, and so on. He’s defending himself by claiming immunity as president, which basically means that he’s saying presidents can commit any crime they want. The matter is going to the Supreme Court, a third of which Trump appointed, and over half of which have been taking bribes for decades from the sort of Christian Nationalists who would love to see a fascist dictator take power to install a white nationalist Christofascist ethnostate, and who have been working to install one for decades. Republicans have spent those decades capturing and corrupting the courts while claiming they wish to end politicization and corruption of the court system. And all this is happening while Trump and his Party brand themselves the movement for law and order.
And again, Republicans are impeaching the current president, even though no case exists for impeachment, because they say they believe that no president should be above the law, even while they argue that their president should be above the law.
And the Nobles of Iowa moved to blue Minnesota while the Huckinses of Oregon moved to red Missouri. They were both fed up. That’s how the story goes.
As mentioned last week, Trump’s party, the Republican Party—whose members love to compare themselves to history’s civil rights heroes even as they demonize today’s civil rights movements—is attacking universities (as is their habit) under the auspices of a newfound opposition to antisemitism, pointing out places where our nation’s universities seem alarmingly unable to adequately counter even hypothetical antisemitic language among their student bodies, and pointing to antisemitism within activist groups on college campuses. They’re doing this even though they have spent the preceding years promulgating antisemitic memes and myths and politicians and policies, and making sure radicalized antisemites and other unhinged bigots are well-armed with weapons that can kill as many people as possible, and insisting there must room for white nationalist and even Nazi speech on our national platforms, and demanding that such speech be permitted in our nation’s universities most particularly, because they claim to stand for free speech even as elsewhere they work to snuff out speech that has become too inclusive.
And the fed-up Nobles of Iowa moved to blue Minnesota, while the fed-up Huckinses of Oregon moved to red Missouri.
I’ve been discussing the bully tactics of abusive narcissists, and the way those tactics map almost perfectly to the ways that supremacists of all kinds mediate their violence through denial, accusation, and reversal of victim and offender, in order to establish their supremacy, entrench it, popularize it, and justify it.
Today I’d like to think about the way supremacists deny.
Here’s what I notice. There are people in power who are actively pursuing supremacy, which is the popular belief that some people matter and all other people do not matter and aren’t even fully people, and probably need to be eliminated for the safety of people who matter. These supremacists are enacting all the violence and menace and harm and abuse that always attends supremacy, because supremacy—a human spirit that believes most people don’t matter—is always inherently eliminationist and therefore inherently violent. And they are almost always doing it in the name of a desire for some good thing—in fact, in the name of the exact opposite thing that they intend; in the name of the exact thing they are working to destroy.
So I conclude that fascists and other supremacists find themselves easily able to claim to hold any beliefs at all—even beliefs whose goals they are actively working against—because their only real belief is in their own supremacy.
Beyond that, they have no beliefs. They only have intentions.
So I conclude that intention is a matter of what is actually done, not what is claimed.
I’d suggest this means that it is very important to pay attention to what is actually done.
Let’s return to the Nobles and the Huckinses.
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The Huckinses and the Nobles were two families covered in a profile piece by the New York Times back in October. You can read it if you want, right here.
It’s about a trend of families who move from their home state to another state, because of political differences. That’s the way the story is framed. Two families, who both moved for basically the same reason. The story tells us that this demonstrates our increased political polarization.
The Nobles moved from Iowa to neighboring Minnesota because they wanted to be safe, and they weren’t. If you ask the Huckinses, they moved from Oregon to Missouri for the same reason. So it’s the same motivation, on both sides. Perhaps, despite our polarization, we’re all more alike than we are different. Certainly I’ve noticed that a lot of people believe this to be true.
The Nobles moved because one of their children is trans, and the government of their home state of Iowa has decided that it would be better if trans people didn’t exist quite so much in Iowa, and have passed a law to make that happen. Iowa isn’t particularly special here. Pretty much every state controlled by Republicans has decided much the same thing, and has either passed a similar law or is planning to. There are a lot of intentions stated behind this: the desire for fairness in girls’ sports is one, for example—which is interesting, since Republicans have never been particularly interested in funding girls’ sports, and the actual impact of trans kids on high school sports in Iowa is best described as “undetectable.” The desire to keep girls safe in school bathrooms is another, which is sort of rich coming from the same people who refuse to make schools safe from gun massacres, and who insist on forced birth legislation that is making maternal mortality rates spike, and who pass laws that require genital inspection. The desire to make students comfortable is cited, which is interesting, since it gives away the clear belief that trans kids, who are being othered and excluded in the name of this comfort, are not considered students, or at least that their comfort is considered utterly immaterial, that their existence as students is something divorced from the general responsibility to create a safe comfortable environment for students—that their existence as students represents only discomfort and danger for others.
Anyway, what the government is doing is ignoring the preponderance of actual data and banning potentially life-saving medical care for trans youth. They claim that their intention is to protect trans youth, when what it is actually doing is endangering them, when what it actually represents is an eliminationist attack, designed to make trans people and their families not exist—not in Iowa anyway.
And so it has come to pass: to keep their child safe, the Nobles have moved away from their home state. Iowa has one less trans kid in it, which is what anyone who wants to actually look can see is what Republicans and all their fascist1 supporters actually wanted.
But there were two families who got “fed up,” as the story put it.
Let’s look at the Huckinses.
The Huckinses moved away because there were many many unhoused people in their hometown of Portland, and this made them feel unsafe and desperate.
I should tell you about unhoused people, who are everywhere these days.
In case you didn’t know, unhoused people are a quickly growing population of citizens who have nowhere to live, mostly due to decisions people in power have made over the years to prioritize protection of property and wealth over the lives of human beings, and to treat people with property and wealth as if they matter and people in poverty as if they don’t matter, and to use those priorities to channel more and more wealth to fewer and fewer people as if doing so was the obviously moral thing to do, meaning there are more and more people with pretty much nothing at all. And once you’ve got nothing at all, it’s pretty much impossible to get anything whatsoever, especially in a land that believes it only exists for the welfare of people with property and wealth.
Unhoused people are without question the most at-risk population in our country, in greatest danger of harassment and abuse, harm and murder, and of being refused access to basic needs like food and water and shelter and medical care. There are good upstanding citizens in every city who will go out and rob and harass and harm and murder unhoused people for free, yet even so, most of our cities spend half of their budgets or more on municipal brute forces who are given military gear to contain the unhoused people, and these forces largely accomplish their mission with liberal application of brutality and threats of brutality. Whenever anyone suggests that perhaps we should help these most marginalized and endangered people in our society, that foolish citizen will be roundly scolded for having failed to consider how much it will cost people who currently are not unhoused. And if that foolish person suggests that perhaps we should take the money we currently spend on municipal militarized brute squads and use it on actually helping unhoused people, then that citizen really catches it in the teeth, and is excoriated by respectable upstanding citizens for ignoring the danger2 that the unhoused people (who, again, are the people in our society in the most actual danger) represent.
And I suppose an unhoused person does represent a bit of danger. People who are neglected to the point of desperation often become desperate is my observation, and desperation does not make a person make the safest decisions. So that might be an answer to those who fret about the cost of caring for people in need: the cost of not caring for people in need appears to be a growing population of desperate people, and increasingly costly municipal brute squads.
Anyway, everywhere around this country, cities whose governments (not always Republican government, I notice) have agreed to accept the underlying supremacist premises (even if they oppose various supremacist tactics), and have engaged in a policy of elimination of unhoused people, all in the name of safety, even while state governments pursue policies that ensure that more and more people will fall into poverty and lose their access to housing.
But I was talking about the Huckinses, who left their home state seeking safety—the exact same motivation as the Nobles, is what I’m meant to understand.
The issue for the Huckinses is that they felt that their hometown of Portland had not yet eliminated unhoused people quite enough for their taste, so they moved to the exurbs of Saint Louis, Missouri, where apparently the Huckinses feel unhoused people have been sufficiently eliminated, and so the Huckinses feel safe again. And perhaps they’ll be glad to know that trans people are being eliminated in Missouri as well—who knows? I’ve noticed that once a regular good-hearted fella starts hankering for undesirables to be eliminated, that fella tends to keep coming up with more types of undesirables to be eliminated; it’s almost as if eliminating undesirable types of people was that fella’s real motivation all along. And like I say, anywhere Republicans are able to gain (or seize) power, they are moving to eliminate trans people. It’s a standard feature of the eliminationist bundle in the United States. It’s sort of table stakes if you’re courting support from nice good-hearted white Christian fascists.
Another thing that the Huckinses reported they loved about Missouri: according to them people in their areas really loved flying the flag of the United States, while apparently in Portland it was a shameful thing to do. In Missouri, though, the Huckinses never have to3 stop to think why people might not want to fly a flag that represents power trying to eliminate them from existence. It must feel very comfortable for people who don’t want to see undesired people, to move to a place where there aren’t any undesired people. I imagine it feels very safe. So for some the U.S. flag has begun to mean freedom from the sort of people they would like to not exist, and for others it means the eliminationist force that is eliminating them from society. A flag is a symbol; national flags are a symbol of a nation. So a national flag becomes the symbol of what a country does with its power, and you can tell what a flag means by noting who flies it with pride, and who fears it or shuns it. If a country starts eliminating undesirable people, then that’s what the flag will mean, both to those it eliminates and to those who desired the elimination of people they deemed undesirable. That’s how flags work.
But look here, we shouldn’t be uncharitable. The Huckinses’ intent was safety, which is a good thing. And we all want safety. Who would be against safety?
Maybe we should look past stated intent and start looking at what actually happened.
The Nobles needed safety. They left their home state because they were being eliminated by their state government. The Nobles were, and are, in serious danger.
The Huckinses wanted to feel safe. They left their state because of insufficient elimination of unwanted and deliberately abandoned people, and came to a state where the people they would rather not see—people who are in the greatest danger—are nowhere to be seen, almost as if they had been pre-cleared away ahead of time, specifically for people like the Huckinses, who enable the danger that others are in, and still do.
Both families feel safer now, I imagine, though I doubt the Nobles feel perfectly safe, since Minnesota is not free of people who would very much like Minnesota to be a place where trans people don’t exist, and when every election is a referendum on their existence, and one party is vowing to rid the country of undesirables, and the other party seems either willing to horse trade with them on various issues (or else is unable to do anything more than they are doing, if it makes you feel better to believe that).
And I’m told the problem is that both sides are polarized, and both sides actually want the same thing, even though they can’t get over their disagreements over silly politics.
That’s the story anyway.
Abusive narcissists always have a story.
That’s another thing I’ve noticed.
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We’ve been looking at the bully tactics of abusive narcissists and the way they map to the behaviors of supremacists. This is the one about the tactic of denial. Supremacists, like bullies, will always deny their real intentions, because supremacists, like bullies, do not want to pay any cost for their bullying, and loss of reputation is a cost. And supremacists, like bullies, are finely attuned to the margins of support, and so they know what is allowed and what isn’t, even as they work to move those margins further out.
It occurs to me that while an abuser wants enthusiastic supporters, they are more than willing to cultivate indifferent enablers. They would love advocacy, but are just as well served by a false equivalency that extends the benefit of the doubt to their stated intent while deliberately ignoring the true intent revealed by what is actually happening.
Equivalency of intent is the reason a narcissistic abuser’s denial so often involves claiming to desire the exact opposite of their true intent. An abuser’s instinctive next step is always accusing their victim, and it’s always best to accuse your victim of exactly what you yourself are doing, because it creates the most airtight equivalency when both of you are saying the same thing.
The difference, of course, is that abusers enact abuse, while their victims suffer the abuses. So, as victims create language to name their abusers and the abuses, abusers fight that language—stay woke, critical race theory, diversity equity and inclusivity—until they can learn it, claim it for themselves, and corrupt it to mean what they now want it to mean, which is danger—woke mind virus, CRT, DEI.
And this is why members of today’s fascist political party want to be thought of as Rosa Parks even as they advocate the use of military force against today’s civil rights movements. This is how they can dismantle Diversity Equity and Inclusion programs in the name of fighting bigotry, using the language of antibigotry, and feel not the slightest tug of cognitive dissonance4. This is how a fascist party with fascist intent, whose leader quotes Adolf Hitler and promises fascist purges of undesirable “socialists,” whose members openly run on the vile replacement myth that undergirds antisemitism, can claim to oppose antisemitism. And this is why they are impeaching the president—not because the president has committed impeachable offenses, but because now that their leader is an open criminal, impeachment has to become something both sides do.
If you are an abuser, you can move to whatever belief gets the job of your actual intent done, whatever beliefs create the false equivalence that protects your reputation no matter what you do. There are no beliefs, only intentions.
Denial creates the first equivalency, which defends a bully’s reputation.
Look! Both sides are accusing each other of the same thing! Both sides claim they actually want the same good thing. Both sides sound exactly the same! They must be exactly the same! Both sides are fed up by politics. Both sides are moving away from their home states because of a political environment in which both sides are polarized from one another, despite being similar in every other way that we choose to notice. Both sides are responsible for fracturing our country, but both are seeking comfort. Both say they want safety. Let’s not ask what it is that comforts each of them. Let’s not investigate what exactly each wants safety from, or what the actual threats are, or anything else that might disrupt our equivalence with a report of what is actually being done.
I think supremacists use denial for a very simple reason: it works. It creates the equivalence they are going to need in order to accuse their victims of what they are doing, and enables them to preserve their reputation without the cost of reparation. They get the comfort of a society that is geared for them and only them, and the comfort of not having to know what happens to the others after they get cleared away, and never having to have anybody offend them by telling them about it.
That’s what the Huckinses want, and thousands and thousands of other Huckinses out there. That’s what they got from the Times.
We shouldn’t give it to them.
The way you deny the denial is with accurate naming.
So let’s name it. Those who engage in this denial of the eliminationist urge are comfortably aligned with our American fascists, who are increasingly indistinguishable in rhetoric or tactic from Nazis. I think that makes them fascists. I think it suggests that if the party currently parroting Nazi ideology gets into power, they will happily be Nazis. That’s a charged thing to say, because we’ve trained ourselves to believe that Nazis are cartoon villains, and that calling somebody a Nazi means that you’ve lost the conversation. But history informs us that whenever you have a country controlled by Nazi beliefs and priorities, you’re going to find millions of smiling friendly Nazis who are perfectly willing to stay on a need-to-know basis about the killing, and perfectly willing to explain to themselves why it was necessary for safety and freedom, and why the killing was actually the fault of those killed.
When one hears about the rise of elimination, one wonders how it was allowed to happen. How did people permit it?
I think it looks exactly like the Huckinses. Perfectly nice people I’m sure, who have decided that the existence of other people is a danger they shouldn’t have to endure, and who, rather than paying the costs of creating a sustainable society that supports all, seeks spaces where those who compromises their moral or social comfort simply aren’t. Thousands and millions of comfortable eliminationists. It’s not nice, but that’s what they are. Perhaps it is an uncomfortable thing to say, but as our supremacist spirit seeks comfort, we should seek to increase the discomfort.
They don’t kill. They just accept that there are certain propositions that mean that certain people represent danger itself, and that those people must be eliminated from society in the name of safety, which is of course a good thing, and necessary for establishing freedom and liberty.
Then they move into spaces that have been cleared of undesirables, and talk about how much nicer it is here, tell themselves a story to make it not only OK, but good. Not only good, but goodness itself—a goodness they credit back to themselves.
They intend danger for others, but they tell themselves they desire safety, just like everyone else, who is in danger from them.
Then, wrapped in their self-praising comfort, in a space that has been cleared of undesirables, they call themselves free and brave.
And then they proudly fly the flag—their flag—which means freedom and liberty for them, and terror and death for everyone else.
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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. And you know that notion just crossed his mind.
And again, to be clear, by fascism I don’t just mean “somebody I disagree with,” I mean a particular expression of supremacy: a popular political movement organized around an authoritarian cult of personality and privatization of the public good, mediated through an open and explicit reverence for violence as a redeeming force, and energized by a supremacist nationalist myth of purification.
Or perhaps is even accused by fine upstanding citizens of hating safety and wanting the danger.
Note: the initial version of this essay stated that in Missouri nobody ever thinks about this, which is of course an ignorant and reductive thing to say, and is lazy in a way I try to avoid in my writing. It’s not what I was trying to say, but it is what I did say, so what I can do now is admit it, apologize for it, and correct it. So that’s what I’m doing. Sorry for the lazy writing. My thanks to those who corrected me.
This week Greg Gutfeld, a white supremacist TV bloviator who employs DARVO bully techniques professionally, claimed that “the left” is using DARVO bully techniques.