The Conservative Mind & North Carolina’s HB2
In March, North Carolina’s General Assembly rebuked the city of Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance with House Bill 2, a piece of legislation criticized by opponents as a discriminatory tool aimed at the LGBT community. The conservative right has defended the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – better know as the bathroom bill – as a means to protect women and children despite the complete lack of evidence suggesting such protections are needed.
The underlying current of the General Assembly’s actions is a fear of change. Depending on which segment of the conservative right you ask, the perceived basis for their intellectual leanings is religion, nationalism or traditionalism, among others. The actual foundation is none of the above, but rather the basic emotions of fear and anxiety.
In 2011, researchers at University College London found self-described conservatives and liberals had distinct differences in their brain structure. The conservatives in the study had a larger amygdala – an almond-shaped structure in the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety – than their counterparts.
This finding is significant in that it suggests that evolution could play as much of a role in our political leanings as exposure to education, diversity and other environmental aspects. In a March study aimed at explaining the differences in conservatives and liberals, University of Nebraska researchers determined that negativity bias – a cognitive process in which greater importance is given to negative information over positive information – is stronger in conservatives. While the benefit to that finding is that conservatives are more attuned at assessing potential risks, the downside is a stout reliance on maintaining the status quo.
That psychology is evident in the every day workings of the conservative right, whose mantra is God, guns and liberty. God to answer the unknown and provide safe haven, guns to protect our turf and liberty to do what we want, thanks to a heavily armed military. The fear builds from an assortment of directions and emotions. Nate Silver, the stat guru behind fivethirtyeight.com, offers politically palatable phrases such as economic anxiety and racial resentment. You can add immigration apprehension, firearm enthusiasm and military enforcement to the list.
As a result of these fears, large segments of the religious right have embraced Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. That’s a shocking development given the racist, sexist and xenophobic overtones of the real estate magnate’s campaign. Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. He intends to build a 30-foot wall constructed of concrete and rebar along the southern border to keep Mexicans from crossing illegally. And not only was Trump initially reluctant to rebuff the Ku Klux Klan’s endorsement, but he’s also in favor of torture practices that include harming the family members of known terrorists. This is the type of man that Jesus spoke out against, not embraced, yet Christians are lining up in droves to cast a vote for him.
It is this same segment of the population that is defending the General Assembly’s House Bill 2 and its discriminatory inclusions. Earlier this month, Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, called the bill a common sense law passed “so the safety of our women and children and private businesses wouldn’t be harmed.”
The rally cry to protect women and children has been a staple of the conservative movement dating back to segregation, when equality for African-Americans was criticized as putting white women at risk to sexual assaults and venereal diseases. If conservative men were actually interested in protecting women and children, they would fight to eliminate the gender pay gap and provide legitimate maternity leave, neither of which has happened.
What the statistics actually indicate is that transgender bathroom assault cases are so rare that Florida State Representative Frank Artiles, who introduced a similar bill in his state in 2015, was unable to produce any evidence of such an attack occurring. More importantly, the statistics also show that 64 percent of transgender people experience sexual assault in their lifetime, 46 percent of trans men report an attempted suicide in their lifetime and hate crimes against transgender people increased by 13 percent in 2014 alone. Bills like HB2 only increase the outcast view of transgender people, thereby exposing them to potentially more abuse.
A segment of the religious right has no issue with labeling transgender people as outcasts. After all, they have long taken that approach with the gay and lesbian crowd, citing vague Bible passages lost in translation over the past 2,000 years. The Leviticus verse (20:13) often cited for declaring homosexuality “an abomination” comes four verses after children are condemned to death for cursing their parents. These self-described Christians, however, are willing to overlook the latter to denounce the former.
A more accurate Scripture verse for the HB2 debate is Luke 4:18, in which Jesus proclaims that God has sent him to set the oppressed free. In this case, the oppressed are the transgender people, not the women and children. That’s what it ultimately comes down to. The conservative right can soak in its xenophobic fear and chastise those that look and act different than they do, or it can follow both logic and Scripture.
A change in perspective may be easier to come by than one might think. The conservative right’s adherence to the status quo has aided energy companies in maintaining their revenues by denying climate change. Irina Feygina, a behavioral scientist, conducted a study during her time at NYU to see if conservatives would change their opinions on climate change if the discussion was reframed. Instead of labeling climate change as a challenge to government and industry, Feygina’s team of researchers presented it as a threat to “the American way of life.” Adding a patriotic view to the mix, the self-described conservatives in the study were more willing to sign petitions to protect the environment.