The New Puritans and The Politics of Perfection

Ah, nostalgia!

We can look back to the history of our country and wax poetic about the grand vision that our founding father's had.  We can ruminate on what it was like to sail over the ocean for three months to a completely unfamiliar country, set up a society of colonies, and eventually challenge the most powerful military might on the planet to create a brand new country dedicated to a Constitutional Democracy.

As we look upon these revolutionaries who created the single most progressive national ideal since the Greeks, let's also completely dismiss them out of hand for owning slaves, for fucking around, for being incredibly religious, and for being men.

Let's backup a second.

The Puritans were a sect of Calvinists who were completely underwhelmed by the reforms of the Catholic Church.  When they came over to the New World, they suddenly had free reign to worship and behave as they believed they ought to which included a categorical rejection of anyone who did not fit the strict behavior guidelines set down by their beliefs.  From such piety came the Salem Witch Trials and the celebrated classic novel "The Scarlet Letter."

The Puritans were the height of hypocrisy in that they came from persecution and became the persecutors.  Purity of thought, fealty to the party line they felt they had, was all.  Any deviation from this rigid set of rules resulted in excommunication, public shaming and, considering the nature of the country at the time, an isolated death.  If you were fallibly human and unable to reach perfection in their eyes, you were pretty much shit outta luck.

Ah, nostalgia!

Hundreds of years later, we are faced with a New Puritanism, a new Politics of Perfection.  While not religious in nature, the intolerance for coloring outside the lines of a dictated belief system is every bit as strident and ugly.

Today, a man is pilloried and threatened for refusing to stand during the National Anthem.
Today, a woman is destroyed in twelve hours for making a poorly worded joke on Twitter.
Today, a college professor is fired because she suggested that the university she works for not regulate Halloween costumes.
Today a bold, talented black comedian is harassed by millions for being in a movie about ghosts.

The New Puritans, on multiple sides of zealotry, either laud and pine for an America that once was or dismiss any good that existed before in the face of cancerous policies long since overturned.  No politician running for office will ever be good enough because, with so many angry Puritans and neo-McCarthyites in play on democracy's revenge upon itself, all it takes is disagreement on one issue to render anyone a monster.

"If someone is trying too hard to be an ally to women, it is almost always because they are a secret monster. WE SEE YOU." -- random posting on Facebot

"Why are people still cool with like.... Louis CK and Woody Allen?" -- more Faceborg

Why are people "still cool" with Martin Luther King, Jr.?  He was a brilliant, motivated force for change but he also fucked around on his wife and "chose" an "acceptable" black woman in Rosa Parks to be the face of his resistance.

Why are people "still cool" with Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, while pulling the country out of the Great Depression and helping to defeat the Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese, also had a decades long extramarital affair and approved internment camps for Japanese Americans?

The New Puritans seem to want a world of perfection in humanity while denying their own hypocrisies.  Human beings are each one of us a coin with two distinct sides.  One side of the coin is greatness - generosity, compassion, intelligence, altruism, ingenuity.  The other side is weakness - temptations given in to, bigotry, anger, fear.  No one escapes these two sides but the New Puritans want to hide the "tails" side from the world and demand the same of everyone else.

Theirs are the power of the mob, of the unassailably unified voice, of the shouting down, of the acts of personal destruction.  Theirs are the stocks, the scarlet letter, the black list, the twitter trolling, the use of words like "racist," and "misogynist," and "intersectionality" to label those who differ from them as enemies of the state of things.

One day, far into the future, as our children's children's children look back upon this time of New Puritanism, they will see us as we see those foaming at the mouth neo-Calvinists who burned women as witches and practiced religion like a dictatorship and see those among us who actually accomplished something more than shame and noise as first heroes and then villains.

Barack Obama smoked and used drones instead of troops?  A secret monster!
Stephen Hawking watched a lot of girl on girl porn?  Then who cares about his advances in science!*
Hillary Clinton was our first woman president but those emails?  Doesn't count anymore!

Ah, nostalgia!

* I made that up but it seems plausible, right?