When Ordinary Conservatives Defend Billionaires: A Rhetorical Analysis

When Ordinary Conservatives Defend Billionaires: A Rhetorical Analysis

This past week, on the AS Facebook page, I posted a meme comparing Smaug, the greedy dragon villain in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, to billionaires. As usual, the responses from the conservative trolls were extremely illuminating, saying the quiet parts out loud. Thanks to these responses, this week’s article looks at the ways ordinary conservatives find themselves defending dragons…I mean, oligarchical billionaires that are trying to keep their loyalty through shady rhetoric.

Where I’m Coming From Here

As always, I’m coming at this as a former pastor’s kid in a right-leaning denomination that went on to become a communication scholar who mostly studies stress, trauma, and conflict communication.

I also have a couple of degrees in English and a big part of my PhD concentration relates to narrative theory.

Growing Up in Antifa/Anti-Unhealthy Dragonish Behavior Fandoms

And I grew up on narratives like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. All narratives in which the heroes and heroines are, well, anti-fascistic and anti-greedy dragon.

Oh, the Cognitive Dissonance To Be a Conservative Fan These Days!

As a result, I’ve been particularly fascinated to see the hoops right-wing folks defending fascistic rhetoric and policies who are ALSO fans of these narratives have been jumping through in order to disconnect the villains of these types of narratives from, well, fascism and greedy billionaires.

The cognitive dissonance must simply be incredibly painful, honestly.

As I mentioned, the right-wing trolls responses to this week’s Smaug and billionaires meme were particularly illuminating.

Let’s Talk About the Meme

Before we get further in, let me give you the text of the meme I posted:

“This is Smaug, the dragon from The Hobbit. Smaug famously stole a mountain full of gold. So full that he sleeps buried under gold. We’re talking literal tons and tons of gold by weight.

“Forbes ranks Smaug as the second wealthiest fictional character. He had been first, but the price of gold took a tumble and now his vast, overwhelming fortune is only worth an estimated $51,400,000,000.00, or $51.4 billion.

“That means that EVEN THOUGH he has an ENTIRE MOUNTAIN full of almost nothing but solid gold, Smaug would rank as the FIFTEENTH wealthiest American.

“Fourteen Americans have more money than a gold-hoarding dragon.

“Please consider that next time you say deca-billionaires deserve their wealth and shouldn’t pay their employees living wages.”

Admittedly Smaug’s Recently Slipped to #3 (Shrug Emoji)

So yeah, if you’re curious, if you want to see the Forbes article this is based on, check out here and here to learn more. And as a fact-checking note, this meme DOES draw from older estimates: since the Black Panther franchise came out, Smaug has dropped to #3 of fictional characters in Forbes’ estimation (here’s a piece at Forbes from last year that updates things).  

Conservative Troll Defense #1: Attack the Education of Those Who Like the Meme

The conservative troll reactions to this meme really were fascinating to me. Some, of course, just called anyone who agreed with the meme “poor losers,” “idiots,” “uneducated” or poorly educated in “government schools.”  

Oh Good! The Patriot Movement “Divine Rights of Citizens” Thing Again! (Eyeroll Emojis)

This thread of response of course pulls out ad hominem attacks, but it also pulls out the alt-right Patriot Movement conspiracy movement idea I’ve discussed before (see here) that there are some citizens that are “divinely appointed” with the “real knowledge,” over and against those who are “duped” by the corrupt government systems such as public education and academic disciplines associated with it.  

But Wait, It’s the Conservatives Actively Trying to Make Public School Worse….

Obviously if you think about it, the strain of this particular strand of argument is intensely classist. It’s also a fascistic negative projection, since right-wing movements are actively trying to make public education worse in a ton of ways.

It is, after all, the integrated public schools that are the most under attack by right-wing groups like Moms for Liberty that are trying to make it so public school students are given less education and less choice about a wide variety of perspectives. I previously wrote about this here.

The idea that being educated in a public institution is to be poorly educated is an actually active goal of right-wing politicians like Gov. DeSantis in Florida and others working to fight education about racism and LGBTQ+ issues, among other things involving critical thinking.

Low-Grade “School Choice” Arguments Easily Co-opted Into This

It’s clear to me, looking back, that the same kinds of “right-leaning moderate” rhetoric I used to believe from a denomination that highly encouraged a low-grade fear of the public school system, even while it also valued education in general, were actually at least somewhat in line with this kind of rhetoric, just from a slightly different angle (I wrote about some of this here).

Conservative Troll Defense #2: Blame the “Leftists” for Being the “Real” Dragon-Supporters

A second type of comment in response to the Smaug meme shifted the “real” blame to “leftists”: as being the “real ones” who “have a fetish for billionaires,” for instance. Or saying Sauron (the villain of the Lord of the Rings tales) had killed fewer people than “communism.”

This second type of rhetoric only works if you’re working off the idea that all Democrats are “socialists” or “communists” who support extremist totalitarian ideals. Also, many of these comments combine the idea that socialists or communists=Nazis or fascists.

And let’s be clear: it isn’t the liberal judges of the Supreme Court that have been caught being entertained on billionaires’ boats (that’s been conservative justices Thomas and Alito!).

Yeahhhhh, No

As I previously explained in blog posts here and here that were part of a whole series of blog posts on “god terms” and “devil terms,” this equation of the left ONLY with totalitarian worst-case situations is an irrational propagandistic tactic that’s been used by right-wing folks in this country for at least 150 years to attack those who are seeking basic kinds of equality and equity for vulnerable parties.

As I previously described, it took me way too long to vote for Democrats, not because of rational reasons, but because way too much of this “devil term” rhetoric had settled into my moral disgusts.

Conservative Troll Defense #3: It’s Unfair to Call Billionaires Dragonish!

My personal favorite category of responses, however, was the one that tried to say that the analogy between Smaug and billionaires was “unfair.”

After all, they said, billionaires’ wealth is bound up in companies. Smaug’s, on the other hand, is accessible to him, to be used at any point.

It is, after all, RIGHT THERE WITH HIM.

And did we take into account Smaug’s house values??? Huh? Huh?

In Which I Laugh So Hard at the Illogic I Almost Get a Stitch in My Side

Reading this particular type of responses makes me laugh SO HARD.

As though a dragon as portrayed in these narratives the way Tolkien describes him is likely to be able to just get up and start spending his income.

And as though the billionaires don’t regularly spend from their hoarded funds.

Yeahhhh, That’s Just Gaslighting

The logical problem with these types of comments, of course, is that they are trying to say that the analogy between dragons and billionaires is invalid in a way that they are actually quite comparable.

If anything, the billionaires exactly are spending regularly from their hoards way more than Tolkien’s variety of dragons.

Yup, Just Out There Defending Billionaires Being Dragonish! Totes Normal…Nothing to See Here

The truth is, that all of these comparisons, in addition to those that joined in the old saw of presuming that those who were attacking billionaires’ excuses for giving a living wage by saying that everyone was “lazy” and “looking for money they don’t deserve,” seemed to be coming from defensive reactions in favor of the billionaires and against ordinary people.

Not as Foreign to Me As I Would Like

Which is so fascinating to me, because looking back, I can see how I and others had been through various means trained to do just that.

Sure, I was the type who never bought fully into the trickle-down economics line as well as others I grew up with. But I can see now how the idea of class and maintaining social inequality in favor of the billionaires was woven into the fabric of all the disinformation I DID buy (mostly around abortion and gay marriage, both of which issues I’ve written about shifting my views on extensively since then).

All the Types Of Conservatism—But Really All about Defending Those Rich Oligarchs in Power

See, there were a ton of types of conservatism when I grew up. Some, like me, were “social conservatives” but didn’t care much at all about fiscal conservativism.

Others said they were “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.”

Still others, when the candidate turned out to be indefensible, ended up “holding their nose” and voting against “those evil Democrats.”

And then there are of course the libertarians, who are convinced that everyone in government is somehow equally bad.

All of This Gets Covered Up By America’s “Class-Blindness”

Whatever the variant convinced various people, what I’ve realized increasingly is that every single bit of the messaging is fascistic in nature (I’ve talked about some of the variants before in many spots on this blog through the lens of Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works).

It also comes down, at the heart of it, to protecting and defending the oligarchical billionaires.

See, as I’ve discussed before, we really really don’t like to talk about class in America. We like to pretend that we all are “class-blind.”

But the billionaires are at the very top of the hierarchy, not just fiscally but also socially. And they can afford to spend a chunk of their hoard making sure they stay there.

Billionaires: The New Plantation Owners

It’s the conservative message and desires for certain groups to climb up the ladder of hierarchy and power that they’re exploiting to stay on top. The oligarchical billionaires are the new plantation owners in the American equation.

Sure, there’s at least a myth of social mobility in the US. But these oligarchical billionaires want to maintain as much income inequality as well as other types of inequality as possible. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be lobbying so hard to fight basic human rights and a living wage.  

They Want to Stay Atop Their Hoards, Really—and On Top of the Social Hierarchy Too

Because they want people to give them the power to continue to sit atop their hoards, much like Smaug.

No One Wants to Be Seen to Be Pro-Smaug, Though: Cue Cognitive Dissonance

But, you know, once again, people who have been socialized into fandoms that have them ideologically opposed to dragons sitting atop their hoards never want to admit that they’ve been socialized into unhealthy things.

So you get a bunch of cognitive dissonance from conservative trolls to a meme exposing the analogies.

Saving the Most Amusing Troll Comment for Last

My personal favorite defensive response to the meme that specifically says that Smaug was listed by Forbes as the #2 richest fictional character?

“False. Scrooge McDuck is the wealthiest being in existence.”

Way to read carefully, friend troll! Other friends, scroll back up: the meme DOESN’T actually say Smaug is #1! (Also, keep up with the news and use your Google: Scrooge McDuck is down at #2 now, sheesh. I posted the updated article and everything.)

Coming Back Around to the Key Point

At any rate, the important thing to note here is that conservatives have various reasons to defend billionaires. BUT often the impulse is hidden by other surface issues through the disinformation.

Those Dragonish Wiles Convincing Conservatives to Keep The Dragon Atop the Hoard…

What it comes down to is this: when you’re a conservative you’re taught that conservatism only makes the best sense, whether moral or fiscal or pragmatic.

You are kept voting for that side, and defend it, because you are taught that the other side is either immoral or irrational or fiscally irresponsible or corrupt, etc etc etc, or some combo platter of the above.

One of the standard mythical facts about dragons is that they use their dragonish wiles to convince people to let them keep their hoards and that they are not actually dangerous.

Having grown up conservative, yeah, billionaires are definitely dragonish in terms of that part of the mythology.

Being Proof that People Can Change

I get it now. I’m glad I do.

I hope others will join us on the other side.

What I know is true is this: I figured it out. Others can too.

And we can learn from the trolls what lines people are falling for these days to defend the dragons’ “rights” to protect their hoards at all costs.

Learning from Fiction that Dragons’ Power Isn’t Absolute or Forever

Thankfully, we don’t have to convince the trolls in order to fight the dragons. Lord knows we know from The Hobbit that while the dragons may have their coalitions convinced to protect them, coalitions against them can vanquish the dragons.

Same with the other stories I mentioned above.

Just because the fascistic dragons manage to gain power and sit on it for awhile, that doesn’t mean they necessarily are invincible. Every dragon has its weak spot.

And as narrative theorists point out, we need fiction to help us think through the world of possibilities, lest our brains only expect things to be as they are, always and forever.

Let’s Do What We Can, Friends!

If we all do what we can with what we’ve got, we can all reach toward a healthier world for us all.

A Final Charge

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to stand up against the toxic crap. We can do this thing.

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One thought on “When Ordinary Conservatives Defend Billionaires: A Rhetorical Analysis

  1. Remember when we were kids and we’d dream about what we’d do with a million dollars? Now that we’re adults most of us just want the financial security that a million would provide. But what would you do if you were a billionaire like Elon Beezos or Warren Zuckerberg?

    Inspired by Kate Raworth’s ‘Donut economy’ and Bernie Sanders saying that Billionaire’s shouldn’t exist. (Remember that a million seconds is twelve days and billion seconds is thirty two years.)

    I’d like to think that I would start a privatized Universal Basic Income (UBI). (It works according to recent trials in other countries.)

    Not completely free money: you must fulfill the education and training requirements about budgeting, before you are qualified to receive a stipend designed to eliminate your debt, when the stipend stops. If you fall into some sort of financial ruin, you are re-qualified; life is hard and forgiveness is divine, people should be encouraged to take risks.

    If you fulfill the Health requirements, training, exercise, etc. we will provide money to help supplement Health insurance until we get universal healthcare.

    If I started by giving $100 a month in a small town of about 15,000 people? That would cost 1.5 million a month which sounds like a lot until you think about compounding interest because that is only 0.15% of 1 Billion. So basically all you need to do is keep inflation above 1% and both the billionaire and the poor are gaining wealth. No problem with a UBI in place.

    So what happens then? People start moving to town from other places in the state. Wouldn’t you move for an extra $100 per month and social safety net?
    That creates more demand for housing so we build more. More housing means more taxes so the community gains wealth, too.

    When it’s obviously working, the State will be pressured to adopt the program. Then even more people flood to the State from other states pressuring them to follow suit. Eventually the Feds will be pressured to do it.

    If Warren Buffet is a benevolent as he claims, maybe he would get involved in something like this. I suggest North Smithfield, RI where I live, and Mt. Vernon, IL because that’s where I’m from. 😊

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When Ordinary Conser…

by DS Leiter Time to read: 10 min