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The power of the modern conservative movement is enhanced by weaponizing incompetence

May 10, 2023 6:30 am
Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at Pinellas County schools, Aug. 11, 2021. (Credit: Gov. DeSantis Facebook/The Florida Phoenix).

Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at Pinellas County schools, Aug. 11, 2021. (Credit: Gov. DeSantis Facebook/The Florida Phoenix).

CBS News conducted a poll last week asking GOP voters what qualities they are looking for in candidates for the 2024 election. While the top 4 answers are disappointing, they are not surprising:

  1. Challenges woke ideas
  2. Opposes any gun restrictions
  3. Says former President Donald Trump won in 2020
  4. Makes liberals angry

The only way for the Republican party to bring that list to life is to wholly embrace the strategy of political weaponized incompetence. 

What is weaponized or skillful incompetence? It is defined as a strategic and purposeful unwillingness to try, and once you know what to look for, you will see it everywhere.

While incompetence suggests inability or ineptitude, and perpetrators of weaponized incompetence will certainly hide behind this implication, it goes much deeper than that. At its core, weaponized incompetence is about power. It is the weaponization of power to shift the responsibility of the collective good onto someone else. On a mass scale, conservatives have implemented this strategy to great success. 

The 3 attributes of political weaponized incompetence

  1. Unequal Division of Duties

In the past month it was revealed that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been systematically hiding millions of dollars of gifts from a billionaire: vacations at luxury hotels, rides on private jets, dinners on super-yachts, real estate purchased for his own mother, and tuition paid for a family member. Rather than address the lack of ethics involved in decades worth of bribery, Thomas simply agreed to disclose these items as if the disclosure alone was the issue. 

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This is a classic form of weaponized incompetence. Thomas has weaponized his power by putting the need for his accountability on someone else’ shoulders. The burden to discover his misdeeds and the resulting need for culpability or contrition have been outsourced while Thomas need do nothing more to protect his power than sit passively by. 

  1. Shifting of the cost

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, may be our most prolific example of political weaponized incompetence currently. For DeSantis to engage in large scale political theater is not surprising. What is surprising is the cost he is willing to force Floridians to pay to make it happen. By strategically weaponizing his power, DeSantis can force Floridians to pay for the political clout he does not naturally have. 

  • A bill passed just this week that takes $12 million dollars in taxpayer funds and allocates them towards transporting undocumented immigrants out of the Florida and to other states.
  • The staggering cost of DeSantis’s floundering fights with Disney have been well-documented. It is currently costing the Florida government nearly $1,300 per-hour in legal fees to fight Disney in court. 
  • Florida homeowners insurance premiums are triple the national average and expected to rise 40% this year. Beyond that, DeSantis signed a bill creating a $2 billion fund to help preemptively bail out insurance companies in the event of a large disaster. This gift to insurance companies is paid for by Florida taxpayers.
  • Lastly, proposing laws so extreme they inevitably will end up in court battles has proven to be yet another costly way for DeSantis to flex his political muscle. The best example of this is the 6-week abortion ban, an issue opposed by 75% of Floridians, including 61% of Florida Republicans, NBC News reported.
  1. Willful ignorance as a shield

Before you think that only national level politicians employ this tactic, be assured that it occurs on the local level every day. After nearly a decade of close calls, legislation banning discrimination over sexual orientation and gender identity made it through committee and to the Pennsylvania House floor this month. Some arguments against the bill were obviously made in bad faith, some were fantastical what-aboutism, and others were old fashioned partisan grandstanding.

But weaponized ineptitude was employed by historically less imaginative elected leaders such as state Rep. Barb Gleim, R-Cumberland, who wondered aloud about how transgender girls playing sports played into this issue. Gleim’s purposeful ignorance on a topic that is easily fact-checked shows her disdain for taking real issues seriously and instead offering misinformation in place of debate.

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Similarly, politicians who pretend to not understand the gravity or urgency or gun violence are the worst offenders of weaponized cruelty.

Thoughts and prayers. It’s too soon for partisan rhetoric. Bad guys will always get guns. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

These are not only infuriatingly predictable and maddening, they are also the most insidious version of weaponized incompetence. It is a betrayal to pretend that a solution, any solution is just too damn complicated, nuanced, or out of reach to even try. 

The Takeaway

If the core of weaponized incompetence is power, it is no wonder that even on an individual level, people with power over a marginalized group will wield it when convenient. 

The term weaponized incompetence on TikTok has nearly 68 million views. Mostly videos of male spouses seemingly capable in their day jobs as surgeons and attorneys and teachers suddenly falling to pieces over a simple grocery store list or at the prospect of getting a child ready for school.

It is a domestic version of strategic incompetence and a timely example of an enduring power imbalance between the genders when it comes to the household mental load.

Videos of Trump supporters espousing their hatred of CRT or anything woke while also being unable to define either is the power of willful racial ignorance.

The privilege of being able to decry a fake issue like litter boxes in school bathrooms while families literally die in a mall parking lot is untenable and peak ignorance. By continuing to purposefully misunderstand, they will continue to get away with damaging behavior.

The power of the modern conservative movement is enhanced by weaponizing incompetence. It is much easier to dismiss urgent problems by employing a shield of ignorance and refusing to acknowledge the complexities of these issues than to have the political courage to venture a solution.

It is this willful refusal to contribute to the collective good that leaves a nation stagnant in this madness of relentless tragedy and heartbreak.

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Heather MacDonald
Heather MacDonald

Opinion contributor Heather MacDonald, of Camp Hill, Pa., is a co-founder of The Good Trouble Project, a central Pennsylvania real estate agent, and a former Democratic candidate for the 103rd House District.