George Pyle: Burgess Owens and David Alvord have fallen down the culture wars rabbit hole

Utah Republicans should realize that diversity means diversity. Not a different kind of sameness.

(Screengrab via Grabien) Republican Burgess Owens appears on Lou Dobbs Tonight on Nov. 17, 2020.

Apparently, some of us are still having a hard time getting the hang of this diversity thing. It is about, well, diversity, not a different kind of sameness.

Utah’s new 4th District member of Congress, Republican Burgess Owens, dropped by the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida the other day and helped fellow hard-righters lather up an unreasoning fear of “the left” by assigning to it a desire to “devalue womanhood, devalue manhood, destroy our kids.”

A few days later, Salt Lake County’s new 2nd District member of the County Council, David Alvord, took to Facebook to warn that same “left” is moving us all toward a day when, “we each have light brown skin, exactly alike” and “until we are all bi-sexual and in non-committed relationships.”

He later apologized. Sort of.

Sounds like someone has sat through too many midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — where everyone winds up looking like Tim Curry’s “sweet transvestite” character — and took it waaaay too seriously.

Here’s what Owens and Alvord don’t grasp.

The fact that many of us are big on people being whatever they want to be, whatever they are, means that, if we are true to our beliefs, we want people to be whatever they want to be, whatever they are. That includes Christians and Muslims and atheists. Straights and gays and transgenders. Republicans and Democrats. Rock climbers and needlepoint enthusiasts. Beer snobs and teetotalers.

If that’s a left/liberal view, we’ll own it. Though there seems no reason why it can’t also be a philosophy that finds a comfortable home among people who are for, say, reduced deficits, a strong defense and minimal government regulation.

The variety is the whole point. Uniformity is dull, uncreative, stuck in the mud, without life or progress, makes for a particularly awful restaurant scene and probably no theater at all.

Infinite diversity in infinite combination, as the Vulcans put it.

Of course, if you think that there is only one way to be human, that doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it’s a threat. If we all have to be the same, and the only choices are for everyone to be like you or nobody to be like you, then, of course, you are going to fight like hell to make sure everyone is like you. Because the prospect of no one being like you, even you, is clearly unacceptable.

But those aren’t the choices. As people who claim to love and cherish a nation that is a wonderful polyglot of every sort of human should be the first to realize.

This all-or-nothing outlook hurts what might otherwise be a principled conservatism. It certainly hurts organized religion, which is losing influence at a speed that, unsurprisingly, leaves a lot of people confused and frightened. Confused and frightened enough to vote for Donald Trump and storm the U.S. Capitol.

Something else Owens said at CPAC demonstrates where he and the modern far right are far wrong. It recalls a particularly unfortunate thing Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said a few years ago.

No, not the 47% bit.

Romney’s 2007 “Faith in America” speech said a lot of good things about religious freedom. He noted that nations with state religions are often the ones with the fewest active believers.

“I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe,” Romney said. “They are so inspired. So grand. So empty.”

But he blew it all by asserting, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”

Owens followed that up last week with, “When you take God out of the equation, destruction is what’s left.”

And, from the new U.S. Senator from Alabama, Tommy Tuberville (the one Trump thought he was calling during the Capitol siege when he rang Sen. Mike Lee by mistake), we heard a first Senate floor speech calling for “putting God and prayer back in school.”

That those sentiments are wrong is demonstrated by the fact that Romney’s empty cathedrals sit in nations that are at least as stable, prosperous and creative as is the United States. Maybe more so. They put corrupt former presidents in jail. And have health care for all.

Owens, Alvord and many other Republicans are using culture-war wedge issues to frighten people into voting against their own economic self-interest as a way of holding off imaginary forces determined to turn their children gay and take away their Dr Seuss books.

If it is truly freedom and diversity cultural conservatives are seeking — a culture where everyone is free to believe and, up to a point, act on that belief — that’s wonderful.

If it is a call to turn our backs on the U.S. Constitution’s ban on any religious test for public office, an insistence that only a de facto state religion can hold us together and make our nation livable and governable, then they have shown us where tolerance comes to an end.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) George Pyle.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, once stumbled into Westminster Abbey as part of what he thought was a tour group, only to find out it was a sparsely attended Easter service.


Twitter, @debatestate