It seems that I’m couple of months late jumping on the bandwagon over that stupid Chick-Fil-A donnybrook. But, to paraphrase Huey Lewis somewhat out of context (nay, badly out of context), you don’t need no credit card to ride that train, although you might need a government-issued ID, and the rewards points from a credit card might help offset the fees that your bank now charges you to maintain a checking account.

As it happens, I did not just wander off topic again. The servility that Americans show towards banks does much to explain how the Chick-Fil-A idiocy ever built up any momentum rather than petering out in obscurity, covered only by SRN News.

First, the human capacity for outrage and for targeted advocacy motivated by that outrage is finite. If the hive mind on either the left or the religious right gets into a massive snit over a sideshow provoked by some prissy, sniveling comments from a fast food executive, its capacity to advocate on more substantive matters is inherently diminished. It isn’t obliterated, nor is it necessarily diminished in perpetuity, but in the near term everyone consumed by something so utterly stupid is distracted from paying attention to anything else. Bank robbery, by which I mean the robbery of customers’ bank accounts by bank officers, is a serious and timely problem that went largely ignored during the Chick-Fil-A imbroglio. This was at least fortuitous for the racketeers involved.

I lump the left-wing hive mind and the religious right hive mind together intentionally. Conventional wisdom holds that bank reform is a Democratic Party policy objective that Republicans want to thwart. It ain’t exactly so. Huge numbers of high-ranking Democratic officials have been bought off by banking interests, with little pushback from their base, and only a middling number of “values voters” vote for Republicans because they want to entrench the rapacity of special interests. Many pro-life voters supported George W. Bush in spite of their opposition to the Iraq War, his tax cuts, and the death penalty. On the one issue that moved them most strongly, however, they trusted Bush and distrusted Kerry (who frankly screwed the pooch on his abortion platform and would have done better to recycle Clinton’s speeches instead; I volunteered in Kerry’s grassroots campaign, even though I spent the last month or two in a long-term facepalm as I considered the potential for his condescending, weaselly abortion rhetoric to cost him every Rust Belt swing state). There’s a subset of the religious right that parrots every predatory position staked out by the Republican National Committee, but it’s exactly that: a subset. It helps maintain a Republican stranglehold over the feudal parts of the South, but it does little to win over swing states. It isn’t as though populist Republicans, including a host of sincere pro-lifers, haven’t tried to launch viable candidates of their own; it’s just that Huckabee and Santorum, despite being entirely serious and credible, simply couldn’t gain a critical mass of supporters against their establishment rivals. (Santorum’s extremism is a completely separate matter from his qualification for high office or his credibility as a candidate. He rightly freaks many people out by being a theocratic wing nut, but he clearly has the experience, savvy, intelligence and grasp of the issues to run a credible campaign, even if it’s a lost cause because he’s too principled to moderate his extreme positions. While I’m at it, I’ll also note that he is in no way a doofus like Mitt Romney.)

Democratic positions on wedge issues including abortion, often crafted and expressed by sheltered Massholes, screw the party out of a lot more votes than do Republican expressions of moral support for robber barons. There are a lot of Republican voters today who would vote for a William Jennings Bryan, if only they could find one. Actually, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are closer analogs to Bryan than most people realize. Both of them lost substantial support because Republican Party higher-ups bullied their electorate into voting for John McCain, who wasn’t particularly to their liking, and then for Mitt Romney, whom many Republicans recognized all along as a lying robot. Some Republican elites (including George W. Bush) regard values voters as a essential bloc of useful idiots, but in fact, quite a few values voters recognize asshat GOP economic platforms for what they are and put up with them solely because they find Democratic social policies untenable. In some cases, these purported useful idiots consider voting for a Democrat when they find one who is careful not to antagonize religious conservatives by being condescending or strident about social issues. Grandma, for example, a longtime Republican voter, was much more taken with John Edwards than with George W. Bush in 2004, who had alienated her on account of the Iraq War.

The strange thing about mentioning Mike Huckabee in this context is that it was he who spearheaded the nationwide Chick-Fil-A cash mob this summer. He has also advocated the execution of Julian Assange, in effect in retaliation for aiding investigative journalists. This behavior is very different in tone from Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas and his 2008 presidential campaign. Worryingly, it appears that he has made the same post-gubernatorial transformation that Sarah Palin has made, only more eloquently. As governor, Huckabee was a rare voice of mercy and reason in a state with some of the most vicious politics and policy in the country. He had the courage to use his office’s powers of pardon, clemency and commutation as he saw fit, and to very thoughtfully but forcefully defend his actions when one of the convicts whom he pardoned committed a murder after his release. Palin, for her part, implemented a series of oil royalty increases and oil infrastructure improvements with overwhelming Democratic legislative support and strong Republican opposition. Both of these ex-governors, however, have spent their subsequent careers baiting authoritarians and managerial class sadists, a constituency that has only partial overlap with the religious right.

Whether he abetted it sincerely or cravenly, Huckabee’s Chick-Fil-A cash mob had the side effect of distracting huge numbers of people on the right from the criminal mess that the Republican establishment has allowed to me made of banking. But he’s far from the only culprit. The entire Chick-Fil-A brouhaha had the same distracting effect on huge numbers of people from both ends of the political spectrum, giving both major parties additional cover for their complicity in rampant financial criminality and general misgovernance. (Social moderates, I suspect, found the whole donnybrook extremely annoying, which is exactly how they regard America’s chronic culture wars in general.)

The connection between Chick-Fil-A and the banks is that their status as large, influential businesses. Mike Huckabee conjured up a viral campaign to support a large and expanding fast food chain. Conservatives, including many otherwise thoughtful people, enthusiastically lined up in support of Chick-Fil-A on the basis that the flap over its CEO’s comments about marriage was a serious threat to their religious values. What really happened, though, was that Dan Cathy decided to use his bully pulpit as a corporate executive to make some passive-aggressive comments that pissed off the secular left and got him into a pissing match with Rahm Emanuel. It was a case of a smarmy church scold picking a fight with the guy who performed a voodoo steak knife massacre on his enemies. Neither of these jackasses deserved a public platform.

Dan Cathy took a lot of flak for insulting gays and lesbians, but one aspect of his remarks that went practically unreported was the dripping contempt that he showed for the divorced and their families. He used his prominence to proclaim his own moral superiority and that of his management team over anyone who had gone through a divorce. He wasn’t expressing concern over the very real stress that separation and divorce can put on children; he instead noted that he and his management team were “still married to our first wives,” which was a snide way of expressing his contempt for the divorced. This can very reasonably be taken as an affront to any separated or divorced couple that has maintained decent or even cordial relations for the sake of their children. This is a large cohort, albeit one that goes largely ignored in the press because its maturity and social adjustment make for less interesting copy than the train wrecks of acrimonious divorces. Cathy was appealing to the kind of people who get off on divorce porn and assume that the most pathological divorces are the most typical. This was, of course, in addition to his haughty condescension towards those who didn’t share his heterosexuality.

Dan Cathy showed himself to be a fucking cretin. So did Rahm Emanuel and Thomas Menino, both of whom threatened to block Chick-Fil-A permit applications in their cities in explicit retaliation for speech blatantly protected by the First Amendment. The problems with this response should be self-evident. Some on the left don’t get the implications, but I’ll let someone else offer remedial civics for total idiots.

This is where Cathy starts to look crazy like a fox, and even more reprehensible. Politically motivated permit denials are exactly the sort of persecution that the chronically butthurt elements of the religious right claim to suffer at the hands of the secular government. These whiners make a habit of comparing the United States, with its vigorous constitutional protection of free speech, to Red China, the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact Poland, Saudi Arabia, and various other countries, past and present, whose very real suppression or official marginalization of religious speech makes them in no way analogous to the United States. The threats that Emanuel, Menino and others made were reprehensible and inimical to religious freedom, but they were prima facie unconstitutional and would have been promptly and decisively blocked on appeal. Any city actually blocking Chick-Fil-A in retaliation for protected political speech would be savaged in the courts. These threats certainly called into question the commitment of a number of city officials to the rule of law, but as a practical matter  they amounted to obnoxious bluffs in a standoff between insufferably grandstanding adversaries. The businesses really at risk in a political environment such as that established by Rahm Emanuel were not major corporations, but small businesses without the funds to readily mount a legal appeal against arbitrary permit denials.

Chick-Fil-A’s history of trademark litigation makes it particularly ludicrous to suggest that it would have any trouble slapping down a capricious blowhard like Rahm Emanuel. Chick-Fil-A recently obtained a federal injunction against an independent T-shirt printer in Vermont for infringing their “Eat Mor Chikin” trademark by printing a run of T-shirts that advertised a local farmer with the words “Eat more kale.” Chick-Fil-A’s attorneys even had the gall to feign sympathy for their respondents at the same time that they were using a minor, technical violation of copyright law, one that didn’t even use the same spelling as Chick-Fil-A’s trademark, to wage scorched-earth litigation against two small businessmen on behalf of a large corporation, with the complicity of an amoral federal judge who clearly did not take equity into account.

This is the company that Mike Huckabee, the great Christian populist hope of 2008, targeted with a cash mob that went viral. This says a lot about American politics, religion, journalism and activism, none of it good. A combined political and religious bloc was easily ginned up into a frenzy to make its voice heard through one of the most naive, stupidly idealistic forms of activism devised in recent years, the one-day reverse boycott. Worse than their childish credulousness about the difficulty of effecting change, however, was that these people were ginned up on behalf of a corporation of proven moral turpitude. This moral turpitude was, of course, ignored by press outlets on the religious right because it would tend to obstruct the Manichean morality play that they wished to present; there’s no room for moral inconsistency or shades of gray (let alone fifty) in an Armageddon pregame show between fast food Jesus and Satan’s faggot hordes. The religious broadcasters presented the showdown in a way that inevitably turned millions of American Christians into useful idiots.

Just as worrisome as the demagoguery on the right was the ineptitude of the mainstream media. SRN News can be expected to peddle a combination of vacuous, platitudinous human interest stories and demagogic tall tales of sectarian butthurt misrepresented as official oppression. NPR, on the other hand, has a well-deserved reputation for bona fide journalism. It doesn’t have an consistent, overarching agenda like SRN, so its news coverage rarely sounds like the sort of demagogic joke that SRN usually is to the critical listener. (The claim that NPR is more biased than Fox News is either delusional or mendacious, depending on who makes it.) NPR is a broadcaster whose studios are presumably swarming with well-rounded news junkies who would connect the dots on a company like Chick-Fil-A. NPR covered the kale case, and one would think that someone at headquarters would have remembered it when the Chick-Fil-A front of the culture war opened, but apparently not. The NPR coverage that I heard of the traditional marriage controversy didn’t mention the “eat more kale” injunction, a significant oversight in coverage of a company whose CEO was bragging about the morals of his management team.

That sort of oversight makes me wonder about NPR’s institutional memory. Did anyone do a Lexis-Nexis search before air time? Did anyone even do a Google search? Did the reporters or editors interpret their journalistic mission too narrowly to discuss the recent history of the company that they were covering?

I haven’t reviewed all of NPR’s news coverage of the Chick-Fil-A gay blowup, nor do I intend to do the research (this-here blog is enough work as it is), but the coverage that I heard presented the controversy exactly as both sides wanted. Actually, I don’t recall hearing or hearing about any broadcast coverage that challenged the facile narratives presented by the two sides. The broadcast media took the facile arguments presented by both sides at face value. They might as well have just read some press releases. (This is perfectly feasible, at least in print journalism. The Times-Standard, the newspaper of record in Eureka, CA, often runs press releases verbatim with the byline “Times-Standard Staff.” It isn’t called the “Sub-Standard” for nothing.)

This sort of dereliction is practically an industry standard. It’s partly the result of laziness and partly the result of an exaggerated insistence on objectivity. Journalists often believe it their duty to report what happened, not why. This high-sounding principle is often a disingenuous ruse in practice, and it is often distorted into a prescription to don blinders. In the Chick-Fil-A case, anyone broadly familiar with American politics and culture or with the specific history of Chick-Fil-A or gay rights groups could have determined that in all likelihood Dan Cathy had ulterior motives and the inflamed response to his comments was out of proportion to their importance.

Truly responsible journalists make an effort to mention the likelihood of ulterior motives in cases like these and to investigate them. The journalistic principle that the American press upheld in this episode was simply to repeat whatever the loudest, most obnoxious people were saying at the moment. Never mind that it was steaming bullshit, which is exactly what loudmouths are inclined to promote on any subject. This is to say that perhaps the most prevalent approach to daily news coverage, the he-said-she-said-Middlesex-said approach, is inherently prone to hijacking by liars and nuts.

At some point, it becomes appropriate just to ignore such people. Doing so is a double-edged sword, since there’s no bright line between the kind of yahoos who have a credible capacity to affect policy and the kind who are marginal but talk a loud game. When Dan Cathy, Rahm Emanuel, and the kiss-in freaks are beneficiaries of free publicity over a wedge issue spat, it’s a pretty good bet that coverage overwhelmingly serves to aggrandize the inconsequential and amplify their idiotic messages. The two sides were peddling the same stupid narrative, just in different terms. Cathy and his partisans upheld Chick-Fil-A as the vanguard of religious virtue and liberty, while their opponents excoriated Chick-Fil-A as the vanguard of theocratic bigotry.

In point of fact, Chick-Fil-A is a fucking sandwich shop.

The obvious counterpoint is that surely Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, and Rahm Emanuel, the sitting mayor of Chicago, are not bit players in business or municipal politics. All right. Then shouldn’t they be judged based on their success or failure in business and government? Dan Cathy has a fiduciary responsibility to Chick-Fil-A’s employees and creditors to properly manage the company, and Rahm Emanuel has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Chicago to properly manage their city. They do not have a fiduciary responsibility to anyone to wage a mud fight using passive-aggressive smears and empty threats of free speech infringements.

Doing so makes them shitty leaders. But such is American culture today that bloviation about extraneous wedge issues is considered an adequate substitute for competence and gravitas. Rahm Emanuel’s “tolerance” is an adequate substitute for doing something about the things that are hellaciously wrong on the South Side, at least in the eyes of the groovy rich people on the North Side. (Will Emanuel get his Harold Washington? Knowing the Democratic Party today, probably not, but there’s always a chance that he could piss enough people off badly enough to get a primary challenge from a carpetbagging Marion Barry, in which case the bitch will have set himself up.) At the other extreme, Dan Cathy’s “Christian values” are an adequate substitute for ethics in the eyes of millions of avowed Christians. In terms of temperament and philosophy, his shtick fits most closely into the mold of the upcountry Old Time Religionists, the kind who make Billy Graham look lukewarm, but in a sense it goes over best among theologically unmoored modern-day nondenominationalists. If I’m not mistaken, it was the latter much more than the piney cracker Baptists who really got the “Christian business” concept going. For the old timey Highland cracker, it was assumed that his neighbors were good Christians, or else scumbags who paid suitable lip service to our Lord and Savior Jesus. For the present-day owner of the “Christian” laundromat in Mansion Flat, it’s impossible to say who in the neighborhood is a good Christian and who is a hard-drinking agnostic who hits up the Sacramento Police for rides home when she’s shitfaced, and therefore prefers cops who have morals to those who profess them pursuant to religious tests.

For the owners of America’s “Christian” businesses, Christ isn’t so much a prophet as a name to be taken in vain for marketing purposes. Frankly, there’s no place in the Gospels for a holy laundromat. It’s hard to find a business sector in the United States that does more concrete things to screw over the poor. “Jesus saw that the poor were dressed in soiled rags, and he had pity on them; and he prayed over the last vat of soap, and it became enough to wash the clothing of ten thousand; and he charged ten shekels for the soap where the soapmakers of Jerusalem charged one….” But by the nondenom consensus, which the Southern Baptist Convention seconds in its more craven moments, a laundromat is perfectly Christ-like as long as its owners leave some tracts around, maybe scribble John 3:16 on the walls, and put K Love on the radio. Definitely K Love. As a marketing gimmick, praise and worship music is worthy of a song of praise in nasal, ill-vocalized Pig Hebrew.

(As music, it’s atrocious. A few Saturdays ago, I missed Scott Simon and Sedge Thomson entirely but got to listen to over an hour of K Love at that fucking laundromat. At least there was a super hot chick nearby and I had Jeffrey Toobin’s true crime book about OJ Simpson with me. That lady’s ass and Kato Kaelin’s testimony about his “McGrilled chicken sandwich deal” were both more edifying than the hipsterish noise and platitudinous DJ pronouncements coming over the air. Christe eleison.)

Chick-Fil-A has always promoted itself as a Christian business. It was making a big deal of its respect for the old time blue laws long before the earnest cryptohipster nondenoms in Redding were opening businesses with names like “Breaking New Grounds.” It’s actually a nice encapsulation of what’s wrong with Southern Christianity as it’s most famously practiced. It’s fine to be a total scumbag from Monday to Saturday, to drip with contempt for one’s fellows in the marketplace, but come Sunday y’all best come forward for the altar call, y’all hear? Chick-Fil-A can play hardball with Jeffersonian yeomen and allow its franchisees to harass and fire employees on the basis of religious tests, but its Sunday closure allows it to claim moral superiority over rural mom-and-pop diners that brace for a rush every Sunday at about 11:30 when church lets out. This passive-aggressive Pharisee bullshit is also a great way to cover for what might be a business decision with no sacred motivation at all. Restaurants generally do a brisk lunch business on Sundays, but they have a hard time covering their shifts; the religious types want the day off for church, and the secularists want the day off for their fornication and hangovers. Chick-Fil-A may take Sundays off for more or less the same reason that barbers do. It’s the weekend, and honey badger don’t care about his customer base when the Eagles are playing. This is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable business decision, but misrepresenting it as a matter of remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy is sleazy and vulgar.

This kind of thing is what passes for Christian business in the United States. To quote the world’s abrasive atheists, Jesus Christ. This combination of sleazeball marketing, bigotry, predation and trolling is presented as being in the tradition of Jesus of Nazareth, and people actually believe it. Then, when the liberals call bullshit and go overboard in the process, we end up with even more bizarre developments, like open gays and lesbians (or, as I like to call them, Gays for Fil-A) carrying on about how wonderfully they enjoy working for Chick-Fil-A, or how courteous the staff are to them as customers, or how their franchisees are totally nonjudgmental about their sexuality, and by the way, the chicken sandwiches are so yummy.

No, they aren’t. I tried one at the Philadelphia airport last month. The fries weren’t bad, but the sandwich sucked. I think I’d rather get one of Kato Kaelin’s McGrilled chicken sandwich deals, although I’m really more of a Burger King partisan. (Arby’s is another joint whose chicken sandwiches are sucky, even though it makes a mean Reuben, from scratch in like two minutes.)

What we’re left with is a sanctimonious religious troll who baits lefties for the publicity so that pious goobers will buy his chain’s sandwiches, regardless of their suckage, as a statement of moral support. We have a jackass at the helm of a mediocre fast food chain who considers fomenting sectarian divisions a swell marketing gimmick to shore up the customer base for his crappy products, and our country is helpless to marginalize him and redirect the public debate to matters of any importance.

Welcome to Chikinshit Nation.

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