This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Strangers In Their Own Land" by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are conservative values? What are the pillars of conservative beliefs and what do they mean?
Conservative values are the beliefs that define what it means to be conservative. These values include believing in big business and being against a “poor me” mentality.
Read more about conservative values and what they mean.
In the last chapter, we saw how the GOP’s commitment to unregulated industrial capitalism has delivered environmental and economic havoc to its most loyal voters. We also saw how that political loyalty comes from those voters’ commitment to traditional values and their resentment toward a Democratic Party that they believe is disrespectful and hostile to their way of life.
In this chapter, we’ll move our analysis forward and approach the empathy barrier by examining the institutions that order and shape the emotional world of the Tea Party right and conservative values in Louisiana, specifically:
- The energy industry—even when its mistakes result in massive environmental destruction
- The region’s particular brand of Christianity, with its emphasis on self-reliance and personal responsibility
- Conservative media, especially Fox News, which provide an emotional outlet from what conservatives feel is the judgmental and lecturing tone of mainstream media and culture
The Power of the Energy Industry
As we saw in Chapter 1, the energy industry has emerged as the most powerful player in
Louisiana politics, despite its underwhelming performance in creating jobs for state residents.
The rise of fracking technology, in which high-pressure water is injected into underground rocks to extract natural gas, has been a boon for energy companies like Sasol, which maintains a significant presence in southwest Louisiana.
These companies are lured to the state by its pro-business, anti-regulatory conservative values and by the well-documented willingness of local residents to support high levels of pollution in their communities. These residents and voters justify the environmental degradation in the name of job creation and reducing dependence on government.
The fracking boom, while yielding big profits to large energy companies, has mostly been an experience of false promises and dashed hopes for residents.
A Blank Check for Business
Local governments across Louisiana have rolled out the welcome mat for the energy industry, giving private interests a blank check to exploit public natural resources.
In the small town of Westlake, where Sasol has committed to investing $21 billion in a new energy complex, Mayor Bob Hardey (an enthusiastic Tea Party supporter) has given the multinational corporation an essentially free hand to dump waste into the town’s rivers and streams and emit greenhouse gases. He is loyal to the energy industry and believes that it—not the government—represents the best way to bring prosperity to the community he loves.
As mayor, he’s used the eminent domain power (through which the government seizes private land for public use after compensating the owner) to help Sasol acquire land for its complex, even using the power of his office to pressure private landowners to sell to the energy giant.
The land acquisitions undermine the social fabric and character of the community, as energy companies like Sasol acquire land in order to raze churches, historic homes, and even cemeteries that stand in the way of their construction plans.
Against “Poor Me”
Although he claims to harbor no racial animosity, Hardey, like many withTea Party conservative values, describes his opposition to the welfare state in highly racialized terms. In attacking affirmative action, he says that no one should be hired for a job simply to fill racial quotas, and that there are plenty of jobs available for those willing to work.
Deep personal stories often inform people’s political views, and it’s no different for those on the right like Mayor Hardey. He claims that he was able to work his way up from relative poverty because his job at the Phillips 66 manufacturing plant gave him an opportunity to prove himself and take personal responsibility for his life—and that immigrants and racial minorities face no barriers that prevent them from doing the same, without government handouts. This is one of the main points of conservative values.
Hardey’s belief in his own deep story and the role that he believes industry played in his own success are what shapes his anti-government politics. Decrying what he describes as a culture of “poor me,” he views all programs designed to ameliorate poverty and redress economic inequality as unjust handouts to the lazy and undeserving.
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- What drives right-wing politics in America
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- Why Republican politicians remain popular even if their policies don't help their voters