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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Cooking in resentment lab

by John Brummett | January 22, 2023 at 1:43 a.m.

Modern American resentment conservatism works best in areas where there is no current problem. That way, the snarling right gets to play with invented ones.

Last week in Arkansas, resentment conservatism raged in defiance of helping people during a pandemic should it entail putting a mask over its nose and mouth.

But it called itself to action to pre-empt a nonexistent but conceivable problem, one supposes, should kids start going interchangeably into boys' and girls' bathrooms at school.

Resentment conservatism holds that government can't tell it what to wear on its face, but can certainly tell public schools--which resentment conservatism says aren't any good anymore anyway--to facilitate easier shaming and bullying of transgender and gender-confused youth. You'd do that by making those youths conspicuous by their mandated entry into that new "other" and third-choice bathroom.

You'd have signs on doors for boys, girls and hated weirdos.

That sounds, among other things, like an unfunded plumbing mandate, though advocates say schools already have separate single-user bathrooms. Perhaps schools could cover any costs with the savings from getting rid of accurate history books.

Last week in the newly opened resentment laboratory that is Arkansas, snarling new Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that she supports the legally challenged state law that her predecessor Asa Hutchinson opposed--the one our Legislature churned out after Hutchinson tried to reduce illness during a pandemic with a mask mandate.

The law said there'll be no mandated mask-wearing allowed in these parts because, as Sanders put on Twitter, Arkansas is free.

An unmasked population is not a big problem right now. It harms only a few who get covid and wind up on respirators or dead. Generally, the latest variant has given rise to the dismissive description of "mild symptoms."

Wearing a mask is a lot of trouble to go to for saving your fellow man a couple of days of low-grade fever. The few still dying of the virus ... well, there has always been a darn-the-luck factor in safety laws.

Stuff happens.

But let's say a serious pandemic reappears and we're right back where we were with the hospitals full amid soaring death numbers. Resentment conservatism holds that freedom doesn't hinge on circumstance, but is absolute ... except for kids rejecting the supposed definitions of their private parts denoted on their birth certificates.

So, also last week, Rep. Mary Bentley of Perry County put in a bill to make those bathroom restrictions in schools. It mandated boys go here, girls go here and weirdos go there.

She said--and here she was right--that the bill should sail into law because the Legislature is four-fifths Republican and Sarah is the empress.

Such a bill was always going to pass if introduced. It didn't get introduced because of the center-inclined pragmatism and business alliance of the recently departed Republican governor whom Sanders repudiates daily by her words and actions.

Asa Hutchinson mobilized big business and its allied lobbyists to keep such divisive culture-war bills from being introduced. It was because they risk economic harm to the state.

Walmart can tell you that the world changes inevitably and that diversity and inclusivity are among its defining words going forward. A retail behemoth does not want to be sullied in that world by its home state choosing to distinguish itself as anachronistically intolerant of the new manifestations of diversity and inclusivity.

Resentment conservatism doesn't give a rip what Walmart thinks. It won't be blackmailed into being kind to gender-confused children. It'll make whatever damned law it wants.

Hutchinson's pragmatism is dead. And that's all it was, a simple practical wisdom.

The mask mandate, for example, was never envisioned as genuinely universal. But people were dying, hospitals were filling and doctors were saying masks helped reduce the rate of transmission.

So Hutchinson stepped up to his responsibility and issued an executive order for a mask mandate because it at least ought to increase the wearing of masks and thus reduce, in some measure, the infections.

But he knew there would be dangerous social unrest if he actually sent the Arkansas State Police around the backwoods holding people down to drape masks over their ears.

There was no enforcement mechanism. There was no real attack on the freedom to infect. There was only a simple attempt to protect people a little more than they otherwise would be protected.

Some progressives rail at this hypocrisy of the resentment right in its opposition to mask mandates but penchant for bathroom ones. But I see a consistent strain.

I'm afraid it is simple meanness. But it'll work all right as long as we show only "mild symptoms."

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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