I Roamed The Halls Of CPAC So You Didn’t Have To.
(With 100% more Dog The Bounty Hunter than I meant to encounter, and a sad piano PSA about the Democratic Party.)
I’m going to keep this vague, because trolls. But first, a quick rant.
Convening the Conservative Political Action Conference in Prince George’s County, Maryland has never quite made sense to me.
Not that it should.
“Urban revitalization” projects will sneak up on you like that.
One minute, you’re living, eating, minding your own damn business in Oxon Hill. The next…well. You still live in Oxon Hill but that monstrosity across the street with the inconvenient and insufficient traffic circle now has its own zip code; a casino; a Starbucks; it’s driving up your mortgage; stealing sleep from you at night; and, for some strange reason, Dr. Ben Carson is headlining. Not only is he headlining, he’s wacky. He’s no longer the famed neurosurgeon with Gifted Hands stopping through to lecture “the urbans” in the local schools and season us with Black Excellence. He’s inexplicably performing what you can only rationalize is bad standup for a group whose purpose isn’t really clear yet — and it’s bad. Like, real bad. But it’s working. For him.
The ultraconservative, pro-capitalist, anti-human contingent known as CPAC has been around. Like since 1970s free-love around. Now, suddenly, they’re in your backyard. Hating everyone. Freely. And loving it.
And that’s so weird.
Actually, ok. Yup. You’re right. Maybe it’s not that weird. Obviously they’re force-feeding themselves on the souls of Black folk, and, obviously, in order to keep churning out a new class of colorless, spineless, dead-eyed Black and Brown “rising stars” of the Republican Party, they obviously need to breed and settle near a steady food supply. Obviously.
D.C. used to be where Black people lived. Prince George’s County is where we still live. Those Chocolate City exiles fleeing surging rent prices in D.C. often ended up here. The county is home to some of the most affluent Black communities in the country, and at the same time it’s kinda been D.C.’s ninth ward. In fact, one of the quickest ways to piss off county leadership is by calling P.G. County “P.G. County” or the “ninth ward.” All of which is important to remember in case you ever, like, happen to meet someone who runs the county and spontaneously feel the need to troll people who don’t even represent you. It’s all good. Think of it as a really thoughtful way to remind D.C. transplants of home. Where everyone pays taxes just to get trolled by every other fucking state in the country.
But I’ve buried the lede long enough.
I went to fucking CPAC.
Okay. I got to the hallway at fucking CPAC. I guess I looked a little too lefty so security would not allow me inside to receive the good word of Sheriff Clarke which was already in progress. All good. I probably would’ve gouged my earballs out anyway. So I wandered. I sat. I observed. I listened.
First, I listened to two non-descript white males in a corner of the Gaylord who were discussing the power of faith to compel people to do anything. Holy shit, right!? You know you’re walking into hell, but who expects sulfur straight out the gate?
Poor actual evangelicals! For these guys, faith was simply a means to an end. It’s a tactic to win elections. Especially an election as fraught with throwback tribalism as the one we just witnessed, and I’m not even sure ‘tribalism’ adequately encapsulates the clusterfuckery of it all.
I thought to begin a conversation with said non-descript white men, but fear got the best of me and I only asked the time. And even that was terrifying.
Eff you guys. I’m no martyr, just a curious idiot.
But still all good, because of who I met next.
Black people. Like, laypeople Black people. Like. People who bought a ticket to fly here and listen to thinly veiled racist shit and stuff. At CPAC. And actually, one didn’t even buy a ticket, and the other volunteered his labor. Like. He worked for free. At CPAC. Do you know how many racist-ish, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic things are said per minute at a CPAC event? Me neither, but what?!
They were waiting for one of the final events of the day to begin, and so we started a very, very long conversation about what the fuck they were doing there.
I confessed my liberalism. They welcomed me warily but also with amusement and, like, a sentiment I can only call pity. One young man in particular left me with an earful about the wholesale stupidity of Black people for our collective ignorance. Specifically Black women. (I promise you, I’m sparing you the actual verbiage. It’s much more traumatizing. I will also spare you the more degrading and biographical commentary, all of which helped explain his worldview in the first 60 seconds flat.)
My go-to response in all this was something like a screw-face and a smile and a polite: “Now, just wait…let’s pause for a second. What? Huh?”
I know. I’m no Malcolm or Martin or even Van Jones. But, seriously, eff you guys.
So he went on. Part of his attraction to this really cray political movement is how wide open it is for Black people and people of color who are looking to engage in deeper political advocacy. His clear disdain for Democrat-voting Black people aside, and his disdain for Blackness, whether you vote or don’t — this young man was very clear about how and why he was willing to endure the rhetoric: he can run for office and win as a Republican. The Democratic field is too crowded and too insular, in his opinion. There are too many political machines. There is no accountability to the base, which (further) underscored his thesis statement:
“Black people are stupid.” (👈🏾 Issa direct quote.)
Meanwhile, the Republican Party doesn’t have the same kind of “identity politics” problem. Now, to be very clear, they absolutely have an “identity politics” problem. In fact, let’s tangent.
It’s precisely because of the blinding homogeneity of the GOP that their dog whistles are such effective and reliable political and rhetorical tools. Those dog whistles are sometimes deep-fried in blue-eyed, blond-haired, White Jesus, other times they’re baked and cut with pure white supremacy, but they are always always always always soaked and battered in fear of some Other. There’s something to be said about how animating this is for their core base.
Yet, even when their social politics are mild, the diversity of opinions on the role of government or the scope of capitalism can reach pretty epic proportions. The intra-racial classism of the GOP, in particular, goes totally under-examined by just about anyone running for office or writing anything about contemporary politics. In fact, I’d argue that that lack of deeper analysis gives even more cover to the Party as it actively uses racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia — anything anti-Other — to throw a wrench in progressive organizing (or failure to organize), and at the same time it masks the GOP’s total lack of an actual agenda that serves people instead of profit. Those –isms and phobias are all a cover to seed dissension and amass wealth and power in the midst of that chaos.
Even “sincere” and more “traditional” conservatives are sincerely of the opinion that women’s wombs are a moral and political territory they’ve personally been invited to; the gays shouldn’t have the privilege of serving divorce papers like everyone else or going dead broke raising kids like everyone else; and poor people need to just get it the fuck together, thus saith (a very limited interpretation of) their Lord who is the one and only true reason for religious liberty. And also guns. Always guns.
In other words, while progressives do fail to fully understand the role identity plays in developing actually inclusive and holistic policy for all, the present-day conservative seems to be way more preoccupied with personal enrichment at the expense of public good, while at the same time using identity politics to scapegoat some community or another for the damage they themselves have caused to their own “tribe.”
But this Anonymous Black CPAC Guy isn’t just willing to abide all that, he pretty much loves that shit. The corruption, the warped sense of morality — all fine by him. Even as he is actively enduring blatant disrespect at best and definitely verbal abuse from a white colleague at CPAC in that very hallway while he’s actively holding a conversation — he’ll abide it. Why? Because he can still take office. By his estimation, the Party needs he and his Black face. In fact, he feels the Grand Old Party is way more connected to true power and resources than Dems are, and far more capable of pulling strings Dems can’t. What’s more, he believes he will be rewarded for his loyalty.
That last part is the most important piece for him, and the longer habanero hitler rules, the more loudly it echoes in my waking nightmares.
The only problem he sees with the GOP is indeed a lack of diversity problem, but it’s a problem he can easily solve by simply showing up as a Black man — and ignoring any tugs of conscience or historical context or irony. Liberals’ kumbaya concept of “The People” be damned, he’s going to get his.
My tender Black woman ears were ringing with his pretty consistent assault on the collective ignorance of Black women, his Black mama, Black people, and Blackness, but cotdammit if my ears aren’t ringing in this moment of Democratic Party reconstruction.
Seriously. Every time I read another piece about Black women’s tireless, overwhelming, and unrewarded political participation; Bernie’s willingness to blow up anything remotely related to reproductive justice; and Dems signaling a move away from the left to a center that NO LONGER FUCKING EXISTS BY ANY STRETCH OF THE FUCKING IMAGINATION, I hear Anonymous Black CPAC Guy.
I hear him because I have anxiety anyway and am prone to fear the worst, but I’m also haunted by him because everything happening right now is the actual worst. Here’s where the sad piano comes in: And no one is seriously prepared or preparing to save us from it. Not even the Democratic Party, self-titled “the party of resistance.” Hell, especially, the party of resistance.
Enter Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Anonymous Black CPAC Guy had to have a pic with him. And at that point I knew I needed to go.
I’d danced at the edge of the Sunken Place long enough.