Having grown up in Missouri, I occasionally keep an eye to the campaigns and political developments of the Show-Me State. My home state holds a sentimental place in my heart, but it’s certainly not a place I would ever want to live in again for a number of reasons, not the least of them being the state’s extremely caustic political climate.
It’s not so much that Missouri is a conservative state, it’s that it embraces a nasty, angry, hateful version of conservatism. It wasn’t always that way, but accelerated toward that path just as I was leaving the state for college in Iowa.
Regardless, I’m still glad to have been raised in Jefferson City, in small part because growing up in a politically-conservative community gave me better insight into how and why Republicans think the way they do. Democrats sometimes demonize certain parts of conservatism that, while I disagree with most of them, come from a place of sincere belief of improving people’s lives. It also helped me better communicate my own beliefs on left-leaning issues in a way that doesn’t result in immediate eye-rolls from people who don’t already agree with me. I see a lot of Democratic messaging that I know only drives people away in places like my hometown, most of which doesn’t have to were it framed differently.
But familiarity also breeds contempt, and there was plenty to legitimately dislike about some of those conservatives and Republicans from back home. Chief among them was the hyper-partisan nature that sees liberals not as people who simply disagree with them ideologically, but as outright enemies of the state. The fact-free, insular way many of them go about their lives, responding to differences of opinion with anger, paranoia and conspiracy theories. The culture of oppressive religious fervor and toxic masculinity that produces such an ugly mess in Missouri society. That, and their love – no, obsession – with guns.
That’s why when I first saw the TV ads for now-Governor Eric Greitens in the 2016 Missouri Republican primary, I knew he was a shoe-in to win. Here it is:
It was not enough, of course, to have Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, simply fire a rifle – they also needed to have something explode into a giant fireball to really drive home the point that Greitens was a total badass.
Many political analysts pointed out that Grietens was successful in running on the same themes as Donald Trump – an outsider who was going to take it to the corrupt, career politicians.
I don’t believe that was the case. I think it’s because Republicans liked that he blew something up real good with a big, manly-man gun.
“Aw, yeah! Big gun! Bang bang! Ka-boom!” was probably the extent of Republican primary voters’ thoughts when they watched that ad. And that’s all they needed.
Greitens defeated well-known Missouri Republican office-holders in that primary like Lt. Governor Peter Kinder and former Speaker Catherine Hanaway with 35% of the vote despite having never run for office before. The non-thinking wing of the GOP in Missouri may not be an overwhelming majority, but it’s enough to win in a fractured primary field.
He upped the ante with his TV spots later on in the race, manning a ridiculous machine gun to prove to voters just how super-tough and ‘Murica he was.
To all too many voters in Missouri, this proved that Greitens was totally awesome and – most importantly – a real man’s man. Look at his big muscles! Look at him shoot stuff! He ain’t no pussy liberal (although he did use to be a Democrat).
And yes, we can talk about all the dark money that Greitens received, including the single $1.975 million donation that was routed through various accounts to avoid disclosure laws. But at the end of the day, those funds went to airing TV ads with him shooting ever-larger guns that won over a gun-obsessed electorate. One wonders if he had ended up running for president one day if he’d have shot a bazooka.
That will not ever happen, however, and it’s not clear if Greitens will remain as governor for long following his arrest for felony invasion of privacy charges. The type of toxic masculinity that drew voters to Greitens’ tough-guy image was the same toxic masculinity that made Greitens himself think that it was okay to blindfold and bound a naked woman in his basement, take a picture of her and use it to blackmail her into not disclosing their affair.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a man totally unqualified for Missouri’s highest office would turn out to be a total scumbag, but that’s what happens when voters there judge candidates on the things they do.
Many of America’s elected positions are referred to as “representatives” in some way, because that’s what they’re supposed to be in theory: representative of the public they serve. Missouri may have made a terrible mistake in electing Greitens in the first place, but they would be hard-pressed to find a man who better embodied the immature, idiotic, hateful, substance-less current character of Missouri politics.
Maybe after this embrassing and disgraceful episode in my home state’s history, Missouri will finally take a look in the mirror and address the moral rot of their empty political culture.
Or maybe they’ll just go buy more guns.
by Pat Rynard