Generally, I’m not impressed by descriptions of current phenomena in terms of the past. Donald Trump as the modern incarnation of Hitler? The comparison seems far-fetched. It either takes Trump too seriously or Hitler too lightly.
But such comparisons were abundant last week after the Supreme Court declined to enjoin Texas from implementing Senate Bill 8, a clearly unconstitutional law that will prevent 85 to 90% of Texas women who want to have an abortion from doing so. Even if they’re victims of rape or incest. Or both.
Commentaries on this story have compared the Republican Legislature that concocted SB 8 to Nazis and brownshirts. The Salem witch trials came up a time or two. So did “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
And because SB 8 puts all powers of its enforcement into the hands of private citizens — this is a legal dodge that Texas legislators thought would help the bill pass muster in the courts — some writers were reminded of East Germany’s Stasi, the Soviet-era state security ministry that depended on citizens ratting each other out.
But the metaphor du jour is the Taliban, and more than once I came across writers who pictured the Texas Legislature and governor, as well as the political right in general, as the American Taliban.
This seems like a stretch, doesn’t it?
But in a recent New York Times column under the headline “The Right-Wingers Who Admire the Taliban,” Michelle Goldberg describes a surprising amount of sympathy on the right for the new rulers of Afghanistan.
Of course, the cranks weighed in. White supremacist Nick Fuentes describes the Taliban as a “conservative, religious force,” while the United States is “godless and liberal.” He says that the triumph of the Taliban is “unequivocally a positive development.”
The Proud Boys registered their admiration for the Taliban, as well: “They took back their national religion as law, and executed dissenters. Hard not to respect that.”
So much for the fringe. But Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, probably the most prominent white nationalist in America, also spoke approvingly of the Taliban: “They don’t hate their own masculinity. They don’t think it’s toxic. They like the patriarchy. Some of their women like it too. So now they’re getting it all back.”
So maybe comparisons between the right wing and the Taliban aren’t so far-fetched after all. Neither believes in democracy. The Taliban don’t even pretend otherwise. They impose their ideology by force, with little regard for the wishes of the Afghan population.
Our right wing hasn’t resorted to force — well, there was Jan. 6 — but it’s worth noting that a 2018 Quinnipiac poll found that 62% of Texans support Roe v. Wade. It’s reasonable to suppose that the percentage is higher for women. And yet, as of Sept. 1, for most Texas women Roe v. Wade is dead, thanks to Republican rule. How democratic is that?
Still, the real Taliban is characterized by brutal cruelty that we don’t see on the right. But never underestimate our homegrown capacity for cruelty. In 1994, Michael Fay was convicted of vandalism in Singapore and sentenced to six lashes. A Los Angeles Times poll found that 49% of Americans approved of this cruel punishment and, perhaps more germane to a comparison to the Taliban, 61% of men approved.
Of course, we don’t cane people in our country like the Taliban, but if you find somebody who thinks it might not be a bad idea, he’s probably a Republican.
Nevertheless, an American Taliban connection isn’t supported by the optics. You rarely see a Talib without a weapon. On the other hand, the same Legislature that passed SB 8 also passed HB 1927, which allows just about any Texan to openly carry a weapon just about anywhere, without a license or training of any sort, another measure the majority of Texans don’t support.
Then there are the Taliban’s beards and robes, an exotic look unmatched on the American right. Still, the Taliban do not look at all exotic to other Afghans. No, they look just like the people who live next door.