Round them up and ship them to a camp somewhere.
Over the last several years, a painter in Utah named Jon McNaughton has been trying to make a name for himself by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a prop in politically provocative pictures which attempt to communicate his apparent belief that only people who hold political views consistent with those of the current American political extreme right wing are in harmony with the Lord’s Gospel and, in fact, acceptable to God.
McNaughton’s latest provocation, shown above, is titled “Liberalism Is a Disease” and depicts people he has judged to be “liberals” as quarantined on a desert island. He portrays an elephant and a donkey in an apparent attempt to show that he is equally critical of both Republicans and Democrats in his crusade against “Liberalism” as a disease. But even being a fellow endowed Latter-day Saint in good standing, i.e., a brother in the Kingdom of God, does not save one from being rounded up with the rest of the politically undesirable “liberals,” as Senator Harry Reid’s presence in the camp reveals.In the past, McNaughton’s works have been merely laughable. They have included absurd, superficial pictures which he believes are fraught with symbolism depicting President Obama holding a burning Constitution, President Obama treading on the Constitution with other current and historical figures joining him in the ridicule of an oppressed white man sitting dejectedly on a bench (an image shamelessly ripped off from an actually great artist, Maynard Dixon, whose 1934 painting “The Forgotten Man”, shown right, has inspired generations of people with a conscience to improve themselves by looking around them and lifting up the downtrodden among us), a Viking, Aragorn-esque Jesus Christ complete with white tree of Gondor emblazoned on his chest holding up the United States Constitution and sorting society as wheat and tares or sheep and goats, with people or professions that McNaughton stereotypes as “liberals” naturally appearing with Satan at his left, to name a few. These have merited merely a humorous response such as a couple of fun rounds of haiku creation here at BCC (e.g., Karen’s “Come Ye Poets of the Bloggernacle” post from September 29, 2009, updated on April 26, 2011 and Matsby’s post about the discovery of “Jon McNaughton’s Idea Journal”).
Artistically, this picture is laughable too. Now, however, Jon McNaughton is suggesting concentration camps. The disease metaphor is a real concern — it is a staple of totalitarian dictatorships. I believe that most such regimes on record have used this metaphor in their goal to gather up and isolate or eliminate “undesirables,” whether in the given context such “undesirables” are liberals in fascist totalitarian dictatorships or religious people/political traditionalists (i.e. “conservatives”) in communist or other utopian dictatorships.
This is a real concern because McNaughton creates these pictures to satisfy a particular demand. My impression is that his pictures enjoy some level of popularity in his local Latter-day Saint community (i.e. the Wasatch Front, which includes his home in Utah County but extends far along the reaches of the “Mormon Corridor” from Southern Idaho down through Southern Arizona) and even among a certain demographic nationwide in the United States. Thus, these pictures say something about us as a people that is not flattering. It was not very long ago that we as Mormons were the politically undesirable element in society and subject to an “extermination order” meant to expel us from the boundaries of civil society. (“Nits make lice” — commonly repeated by Mormons as a quote from one of the perpetrators of the Haun’s Mill massacre, and not too different than the disease metaphor.) Now McNaughton wants to put us as Mormons on the side of people designating others as a “disease” afflicting society, therefore deserving to be rounded up and put into concentration camps.
McNaughton posted the following essay explaining his new picture:
What Do You Mean Liberalism Is A Disease?
My name is Jon McNaughton
I like to paint pictures that express how I feel about what is happening in America.
We have a disease. It’s infecting every aspect of our society and it’s time we did something about it.
Some of these people I really like and some I don’t, but for the sake of our health, our children and our sanity, we need to take drastic action quickly.
What if we could bring them all together, put them on a desert island and quarantine them for say a hundred years?
They believe they have all the answers to everything. But every liberal idea I’ve ever seen has led to total failure. If they were right, their new island home would be a utopia before long.
Let’s look at the most liberal communities in the country. New York City, Detroit, Chicago . . . how are they doing?
Yes, I say let’s quarantine them and let nature take its course.
McNaughton asks, “How has any liberal idea ever ended well?” The Declaration of Independence was a profoundly “liberal idea”; in fact, it was outright radical. Politically, it placed the colonies in open Rebellion against the long established political order of Great Britain, a monarchy buttressed by the most conservative religious ideologies imaginable. Philosophically, it collected the most liberal political theories of government and the rights of man into a cohesive statement of self-determination. The “conservative” establishment in both politics and religion were outraged by it, though the “liberal” factions of society, both in all societies of Europe and in the then existing world of letters, almost uniformly rejoiced. The Constitution of the United States of America was another such “liberal idea” when it was drafted in the 1780s. Though we can all find things to criticize in the resulting polity it created, I think that the United States of America has been a beneficial result of a “liberal idea.”
Jon McNaughton is free to express his ideas — even dangerous ideas such as that people with certain philosophical opinions and political views are like a “disease” and that it might be a good idea to round them up and put them in a concentration camp — precisely thanks to the rights abstractly identified in the Declaration of Independence (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) and guaranteed more specifically in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights (as interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court in the intervening centuries). Freedom of religion, conscience, speech, the press, and assembly are among those addressed first in the Bill of Rights. In other words, Jon McNaughton owes his living — earned by feeding off the political malaise among the demographic to which he caters — to the “liberal idea” behind the Bill of Rights. Setting aside the priestcraft concerns that his pictures arguably raise within our religious community (commodifying the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a prop in such political pictures and using it to help him sell those pictures), he is completely free to do this in American civil society. But if the demand for McNaughton’s pictures essentially indicates that he “speaks for” a particular demographic through these pictures, it reveals the existence of truly alarming and dangerous ideas.
Thankfully, people who do not share McNaughton’s views that politically undesirable citizens (whether on the left or right) should be regarded as a disease, rounded up, and put in concentration camps are guaranteed the same freedom to oppose such harmful views. And they should argue against them forcefully.
In the comments, rather than showing off brilliant haikus in response to McNaughton’s new picture, please provide examples of totalitarian regimes or other despotic powers that have used the “disease” metaphor to dispose of elements of society that they have deemed undesirable, unhealthy, or evil.
Please also respond to McNaughton’s descriptions of the depicted individuals in his picture. A mouseover appears for most of the images depicted in the picture. If you have a response to one or more such descriptions, I would suggest copying McNaughton’s description into the comment and providing your response.