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Opinion Conservatives serve up a scary dish of nothingburgers

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The joke is so obvious it scarcely seems worth making, but here goes: The Republican Party is throwing red meat at its base.

This past week has featured a carnivorous freakout just in time for barbecue season. Contrary to all available facts, right-wing outlets and elected officials are warning that the president wants to ban hamburgers.

“Joe Biden’s climate plan includes cutting 90 percent of red meat from our diets. They want to limit us to about four pounds a year,” tweeted Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). “Why doesn’t Joe stay out of my kitchen?” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) dubbed the commander in chief “the Hamburglar.”

“Idahoans also have beef with this agenda and for dinner!” proclaimed that state’s Republican governor, Brad Little. This came in response to Texas’s Gov. Greg Abbott, who declared with gusto that this encroachment on Americans’ civil liberties and cholesterol levels is “Not gonna happen in Texas!”

Well, no, it’s not, because it’s not going to happen anywhere. The whole thing is, put simply, a lie — an imaginary proposal transformed by propagandists into a topic of impassioned debate.

The burger brouhaha bears all the hallmarks of modern-day cultural war-making. The conservative media machine thrummed to life after the Daily Mail melodramatized some out-of-context numbers from a University of Michigan study: If hypothetically we reduced our meat consumption by dramatic proportions, the researchers said, hypothetically we could lower greenhouse gas emissions on a similarly significant scale.

Skilled sensationalists transformed the anodyne findings into something else entirely: The dictatorial Democrats definitely will restrict your diets to 0.18 ounces of meat per day, or four pounds per year.

Fox News took its cue and aired the claim on at least five of its shows.

“Get ready,” Larry Kudlow cautioned on his Friday show of the liberals’ plot to save the planet but spoil the summer. “You can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts and wave your American flag.” (Beer is already made from plants.)

Does it matter that one Fox News anchor later issued a mealy-mouthed correction? Hardly. The “Up In Your Grill” graphic the network created had already gone viral, rocketing across the Internet from blue-checked Twitter celebrity civilians to Congress members.

The administration was even compelled to respond by sharing fact-checks — joining, in effect, in a battle over a non-proposal. The imaginary had become real. Look, press aides gamely protested, here’s Biden flipping burgers! And he’s smiling! Would a guy like that really try to steal your sirloin?

Compared to fast-spreading fabrications, the truth moves slowly.

Of course, there’s another reason crazy narratives are tough to dispel: They’re designed to inflame by warping a matter of policy into a matter of identity. Forget about any serious discussion of how to curb climate change. Meat has always been a favorite way in this country to perform masculinity. Men love to eat the stuff, women are often treated like it. Just take a look at 4chan’s favorite term for an insufficiently manly male, a weak and submissive discredit to his gender: the “soy boy.”

Now, the same kind of energy and display has exploded into a point of pride and even patriotism.

“I’m pretty sure I ate 4 pounds of red meat yesterday,” bragged Donald Trump Jr. “My officially [sic] response today . . . ” tweeted Matt Couch, a self-proclaimed “Political Analyst,” “Investigator” and “Truth-Slinger” with nearly 500,000 followers, alongside a photo of what looks to be four pounds of cooked red meat sitting heavily on a dinner plate accompanied by a healthy helping of asparagus wrapped, also, in meat.

The vast majority of Americans eat meat; it’s vegetarians and vegans whose meals buck the norm. But this is a typical tactic for conservatives to adopt in times that are a’changing: Take anything that has long been society’s default, exaggerate the threat that someday it may be the default no longer, and — poof! — that thing becomes essential to who we are.

Think of the Straight Pride Parade that brought celebrants clad in ill-fitting jeans with signs reading “MAKE NORMALCY NORMAL AGAIN” to Boston. Think of the white supremacist rallies that seem constantly across the country to pop up and flop out. Think of the war on the war on Christmas.

Or think of a large piece of beef, without even a good sear to redeem it, daring the world to try to take it away — even though no one is actually trying to.

Read more:

Philip Bump: Fox News’s latest straw man is made of red meat

Max Boot: Trump’s first 100 days were sheer craziness. Biden’s are sheer competence.

Paul Waldman: Republicans decide that for them to win, everything has to be a crisis

Eugene Robinson: Biden’s biggest accomplishment is returning sanity to the White House

Catherine Rampell: Republicans make Biden an infrastructure offer he has to refuse

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