Last week, there was considerable uproar over the Trump administration’s decision to not fund the Special Olympics (Il Trumpe himself ‘heroically’ intervened to stop this, though some reports claim this was a White House initiative). Many commentators noted that this seems to exemplify what Adam Serwer has described as “The cruelty is the point.”
While I won’t deny that people who enjoy being cruel (i.e., sociopaths) would embrace this, I didn’t like Serwer’s treatment when he first wrote about it. He treats cruelty as if it were a Lovecraftian Elder god, lurking behind the veil, corrupting those who approach it, and occasionally breaking through to wreak havoc and destruction. It is indestructible, and can not be destroyed.
But I think this misses the ideological component to this. We’ll return to the Special Olympics in a bit, but consider, instead, healthcare. A fair number of conservatives don’t have a problem with our current system. Why? Because they believe those who have problems paying for it likely deserve it. If they worked hard, saved more responsibly, were better liked by their neighbors, and had a church that would help them, then healthcare wouldn’t be a problem. If they were good people–and good people, oddly enough, seem to be disproportionately white evangelical Christians–then they would not be receiving this misfortune (or, at least, would have the previously mention support systems). Besides, we know how those people are. This is an abhorrent melange of Ayn Randian libertarianism, Prosperity Gospel, and racism.
Put another way, what many people see as cruelty, they see as a just order. Like racism (and in part, derived from it), the cruelty provides a powerful organizing principle for understanding the world around them. Someone can’t afford healthcare? It’s their fault.
So how does this relate to Special Olympics? Movement conservatives, when they think nobody is looking, have tried to eliminate government funding for programs like this (and Meals On Wheels, which they hate too). Why? To justify their worldview, they believe government has no business in helping people (except via tax cuts for the rich). If you can help the disabled, or elderly shut-ins, then you start down the slippery slope of helping people who have lost their jobs, and the next thing you know, it’s TEH SOCIALISMZ! all the way down.
We shouldn’t underestimate psychological dysfunction or the need to create ‘others’ for group identity, but the ideology of cruelty is a force that gives too many people meaning.