I’ve read a few things about Rush Limbaugh this last week or so. Of course, I shared my own thoughts on the man, and no, they were not be the kindest things you might read about Rush, but I meant every damned word of it. What I see in the way of praise for Limbaugh coming from the right wing blogosphere in the wake of his detah has me shaking me shaking my head and grumbling. No surprise there, of course, but it does bring to mind an extra thought on the matter of this awful man and his awful legacy.
I have often thought that people like Rush Limbaugh do more damage to conservatism than they will ever do to liberalism or progressivism. We still think what we think over on this side of the political spectrum. Professional bigots such as Rush Limbaugh may be able to drown out our voices from time to time, but they can’t force us to follow their own script, to think the way they pretend we do. Our politics remains what it is despite their best efforts to distort it.
The same cannot be said of conservatism.
More than any other right wing hack, Rush Limbaugh successfully redefined conservatism in American politics. He made it what it is today. This is what all the countless posthumous dittos written in remembrance of rush consistently amount to, a story about hoe he redefined conservatism and effectively made conservative politics the force that it is today. Throw in a couple gratuitous bits of pseudo-patrtiotism and some faux Christian sentiments, and you have the bulk of what is said to honor the man; he made conservatism what it is today.
Just think about what that means!
How it actually worked?
The Sandra Fluke debacle is a great example. It illustrates perfectly why Rush Limbaugh’s impact on conservatism is nothing to celebrate. Sandra Fluke’s testimony was about an aspect of Affordable Care Act, something conservatives generally opposed. There were plenty of things that could be said in response to Fluke’s testimony. People could have questioned her estimates of the cost. They could have pressed her to substantiate various anecdotes in her testimony. They could have argued any number of details, and at the end of the day, there would still have been one very serious question about whether or not a national policy mandating the details of insurance coverage for institutions like Georgetown is really the best way to handle any of America’s healthcare problems, let alone those that Fluke was talking about. That is the debate I would expect to have with conservatives on such a matter.
That debate did not happen.
Instead, we got a national dialogue about the sex life of a law student.
We got the debate about the sex life of Sandra Fluke, not because she invited it, but because Rush Limbaugh preferred that round of right wing gossip to the substantive debate we could have had – should have had! In dropping this gigantic red herring on the national stage, Rush Limbaugh did not merely silence Fluke, he also silenced the legitimate voices of conservatives who had something worthwhile to say about the matter. This was not the decision of a strong conservative voice; this was the preference of a cowardly man who had nothing to contribute on the topic hand. Limbaugh had to lie to get his version of the debate in the public sphere, and he did not hesitate, not this time or any other. That his intervention could be thought of as a strong expression of conservatism is damning praise for conservatives. A strong voice for any cause doesn’t start diverting attention from the real issues, which was always Limbaugh’s modus operandi.
In the end, we on the left still know why we support the ACA, some form of universal payer, or any other sweeping national reform, but the ranks of Republicans who can tell you anything more than sordid stories from the right wing gossip industry grow thinner with every passing year. They do so, because right wing media was remade in the image of Rush Limbaugh.
What Rush did for conservatives was to replace their best arguments with a range of cheap gotcha games like the one he played on Fluke. Of course, by the time of the Fluke affair, Rush already had countless allied pundits who desperately wanted to be him. Combined with Rush himself, their collective chorus of nonsense effectively drowned out any serious efforts to discuss healthcare. Instead we debated whether or not Obama was a socialist, a Muslim, or Kenyan. And then of course, there was talk of death panels. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this nonsense is merely a means to an end; it drives the public consciousness and narrows the options of those who rise to fame on the basis of such lies. To this day, countless Republicans think Barack Obama is a Muslim and that he is not a natural born citizen of the United States. I also hear talk of lizard-people, but anyway… This was the crap that filled our nations airwaves as some struggled to fix our very broken healthcare system.
This was also the crap that fed the imagination of the idiots who stormed our capital.
And the idiot politicians who stormed them on.
…and the idiots who don’t understand how the one led to the other.
We can lay this fact, the fact that conservatives all over America were so easily distracted then and now, directly at Limbaugh’s feet. It was Limbaugh who took diversions like the one he played on Fluke to the top of the media market and the stage for propaganda operations like Fox News. It was Limbaugh that crushed any hope that conservatives with anything substantive to say would find their way into the news cycle and replaced it with an endless supply of bobble-head pundits ready and willing to caricature themselves and their supposed politics.
The modern republican Party is an talent agency for right wing media. Folks run for office so they can command better speaker fees and maybe even land a spot on some cable television program pretending to be conservative. Thoughts of actual governance completely escape the modern Republican leadership. That’s why Ted Cruz ended up in Cancun while AOC and Beto went to work helping people through the crisis in Texas. Time was when we could have debated whose vision was better for America. Today, we are left with the simple fact that they tried and he didn’t. Hell, Cruz didn’t even come back to address the crisis killing people in his state; he came back to address his own PR crisis, no more and no less.
If you think that example an outlier in Republican politics, then you have not been paying attention.
Limbaugh certainly did redefine conservative politics; he transformed it into a form of low-grade pornography. It sells better than conservatism did before he came along, and it distracts voters and party officials alike from the real work that needs to be done in American government. But it does get ratings.
Our former President liked ratings.
He liked them a lot.
These priorities did not come from nowhere. They came from a right wing circus crafted in the image of Rush Limbaugh.
Believe it or not, there was a time when liberals were the civil libertarians of American politics and conservatives were the folks most likely to advocate repression of individual rights. I do not mean simply that this was the substance of our nation’s politics at that time. No. I mean, that this was largely the understanding of people across the board of American politics. Lest you think this makes liberals the obvious good guys and conservatives the obvious baddies, I should add that a good portion of conservative rhetoric stressed the excess and indulgence of civil rights themes in liberal politics. The Republican Party was also much more invested in a kind of Edmund Burke version of ‘conservatism,’ so they were explicitly concerned with the preservation of long standing traditions, even at the expense of individual rights. Hell, they used to tell you so!
I don’t know how far this pattern stretches back in American history, but as I came of age in the 80s, it was sufficiently common to be taken for granted by a good number of people on each side of the battles we then fought. Back then, liberals consistently played the underdog, a stance often granted without challenge. For their part, conservatives often spoke with the authority of the ages; they spoke on behalf of powerful institutions, and they were the voices most likely to wield power consciously at the expense of individual rights.
A lot has changed.
…at least in the way we Americans typically talk about politics.
This is all broad strokes commentary, of course, but I think you can see it in the general tenor of the times. William F. Buckley, Jr.s first book, for example, was an appeal to Yale to crack down on the damned unbelievers at that institution. It was liberals who fought the banning of books. It was liberals who defended artists in music and film facing censorship from government in one form or another. It was liberals who supported birth control, gay rights, and much of the sexual revolution. It was liberals who defended the burning of the flag, and so on. In those days, before the right wing learned how to tell stories of ‘political correctness’ there was a definite sense that in any political battle you could expect the liberals (and along with them, many on the far left) to side with advocates of individual liberty and conservatives would tell us why something else mattered more.
There were exceptions of course, the most significant ones lying in the area of economics, which threw actually skewed the normal response to power inn both liberal and conservatives politics. So, we could certainly find some battles where the dominant themes were reversed. Also, some of the battles outlined above still track the same way now, but even there, the vocabulary has changed. One topics such as racism, for example, even the moderate left is no longer interested in individual acts of discrimination. If it ain’t systemic, it ain’t racism in left wing circles anymore. Meanwhile, the right wing is happy to use individual acts of racism as a wedge in which to insert the word ‘reverse’ into any discussion of racism in which they willingly take part. If it ain’t reverse racism, it ain’t racism in right wing circles anymore. It’s an absurd situation, to say the least, and part of what got us here is a massive shift in the means by which left and right wingers frame the issues in American politics. The left (and here I am including moderate liberals) wants to talk about larger issues; the right just wants to talk about individual rights.
What we don’t talk, at least not with each other, is how these themes intersect.
How the left got to where it is today is an interesting question, but I am not going to talk about that in this post. I am more interested in how the right got to where it now sits, utterly blind to the public welfare and completely disingenuous in its sense of individual rights.
Suffice to say that I do not think this evolution has been a positive force in American politics. The right wing embrace of individual rights hasn’t done much to enhance them.
Far from it!
How did we get to the point where a significant portion of America’s right wing thinks it’s acceptable to set aside the results of an election on little more than rumors and pornographic conspiracy narratives? How did we reach the moment in which the President of the United States would incite a riot and shut down our government over this very thing? How did we arrive at the principle that protesters could occupy federal buildings with weapons on their person?
The extreme violence of this event has been repudiated, of course, even by those who helped to stir that very mob to its frenzy, and the great bulk of Republican leadership is still unwilling to see in this event – the bloodshed spilled in our government buildings on behalf of a sitting President – anything so significant as to merit impeachment or invocation of Amendment 25. Mike Pence, one of the very people literally hunted by the domestic terrorists at the head of this riot (people who would have counted him an ally just last month), even Mike Pence doesn’t think this is worthy of removing the lunatic from the office Trump trashes with his very presence.
And still concern trolls all about the country urge us all to try and understand the perspective of Trump and his supporters!
How did we get here?
I think a large part of the answer to that question lies in the way ‘conservative’ ideas about authority and individual liberty have changed over the last couple decades.
In a name, it was Bill Clinton!
No, I don’t mean to suggest that it was anything Clinton did that caused this change, though Goddammit he sure did enough to lend credence to the worst of his detractors. What I mean to suggest is that his own Presidency signaled a radical change in the way that conservatives approached our government. They didn’t like Carter before him, no, but they REALLY didn’t like Clinton. More to the point, they simply didn’t accept losing control of the White House.
During the administration of Bill Clinton, elements within the Republican Party abandoned any pretense to work with their opposition. Newt Gingrich led the charge in Congress, abandoning efforts to compromise on actual legislation and putting the GOP political machine on permanent campaign mode. He repudiated the very notion of putting country over party, and made it the norm to fight on any and all fronts, even at the expense of the American people.
I mean, what the Hell? You can always blame the other side, right?
That’s what Newt would do.
It’s what he did.
What happened to cultural conservatism was more important.
What happened there was Rush Limbaugh. First Morton Downy, Jr., of course, but after him, Rush Limbaugh. I still don’t think the majority of Americans quite realize how important Limbaugh was back in the early 90s. It was Limbaugh who taught countless bullies and bigots to call themselves ‘conservatives,’ people who weren’t really all that interested in politics but were happy to laugh at anyone supported by liberals and to berate any woman foolish enough to call themselves ‘feminists.’ Limbaugh entertained his audiences by attacking a parade of underprivileged people seeking help in various forms, and he gave his audience the weapons to hurt such people for generations to come. It was also Limbaugh who transformed the culture of conservatism from a Burkeian defense of tradition into the smart-ass voice of a teen rebel, or for that matter an internet troll. Limbaugh never really made a serious case for cultural conservatism, but he was relentless in his critique of liberalism and his challenge of any authority liberals might come to wield. Whether it was the campus speech codes coming into fruition at the time or inclusiveness in the academic curriculum, the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, efforts to enlist government in combating the AIDS epidemic (yes, Limbaugh made fun of that!), or any number of issues in the culture wars of the time, what Limbaugh did most was to poke fun at liberal pretense and tell stories about the abuse of authority by liberals. Conservative use of similar authority was never at issue on his shows, but this was simple hypocrisy. It was a conscious effort to equate liberalism with the abuse of authority, to delegitimize liberal use of authority in any form, and where necessary, to burn down the authority of any institutions then dominated by liberal voices. Attendant to this cause was a willful erasure of thought about conservative use of authority, and erasure of consciousness that that could ever really happen. Even when conservatives were in charge, their actions would be measured, henceforth, in terms of the response to liberal authority. Limbaugh’s audience bought that story to be sure.
It was through Limbaugh that countless Americans came to see authority as the domain of liberalism, so much so, that even a sitting president could count as an underdog, so much so that Hillary’s years in Washington could have made her responsible for everything that happened in government in the decades before 2016, that Biden’s years in office could now make him the new fall-guy for everything done by the Federal government over the last 40 years, so much so that Biden rather than Donald Trump could be the man most responsible for America’s failure to mount an effective response to the Covid outbreak.
So complete is the equation of authority with liberalism in right wing thought at this stage in our history that Joe Biden, a private citizen in 2020, was regarded by many cultural conservatives as more responsible for our nation’s disastrous pandemic response than the very President of the United States!
In right wing thought, all government power is liberalism. Conservative use of power is by definition the opposition to liberalism, the opposition to big government, even if the policies in question expand the power of that government. If a conservative is found to have expanded the power of the feds in the end, well then they were never really a conservative after all.
It takes cultural conservatives the time it takes to read a tweet now to wash their hands of one of their own.
Any of their own!
It was Rush Limbaugh that taught cultural conservatives these narratives. His message has been re-enforced, of course, by countless pundits in the echo-chamber, but no other voice in American politics could was ever so consistent, so loud, or so shameless in its repetition of this theme. He played the smart-ass in the back of the room mocking the liberalism as though it were a teacher hated by every student (American citizen) in the class, and he played that role so well, it became the dominant trope of right wing politics.
At least one other major development in U.S. politics helped to shape the rise of underdog themes in American conservatism, and that is a series of conflicts that reshaped the way conservatives thought about (or at least talked about) police power. Oh they are still happy to back the blue, of course, so long as we are talking about treatment of individual suspects, and certainly in relation to just about any conflict with persons of color, but during the early years of the Clinton administration, America’s right wingers added a new victim narrative to their own list of stories about police power.
They did this in the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge.
I still think about this with a bitter sense of irony as I remember conservatives around me responding to the initial conflict at Waco by telling me how much they worried that the Clinton administration would simply let those bastards get by with it. Police had been shot, and they were deeply worried that a liberal softy might prove soft on the thugs who did it. After the travesty, I also remember conservatives laughing and telling me how glad they were that those idiots got what was coming to them.
That was before the Branch Davidians became martyrs to conservative politics, along with those killed at Ruby Ridge.
In the wake of these tragedies, Federal authorities doing much the same as they had under Republican administrations suddenly became symbols of liberal authoritarianism. The right wing folded in complains of a “New World Order” to be ushered in by Bill Clinton in with the horror stores about Waco and Ruby Ridge, all the while while forgetting that George Bush, Senior, had used that very phrase to help sell his war in the Gulf (a war most of these folks had openly supported). Everywhere fears of oppression by big government made their way into right wing rhetoric. G. Gordon Liddy spoke openly of shooting ‘jack-booted thugs” in the head, and countless cultural conservatives forgot that Liddy himself had been one of the worst of these thugs, the most openly corrupt.
Everything the Feds did under Clinton became fodder for these stories. When Elián González became embroiled in a custody dispute between relatives in Florida and his father back in Cuba, he too became a symbol of liberal excess. Countless Republicans declared Janet Reno’s determination to send González back to his father as the height of liberal abuse. How, they asked, could we send a small child back to a miserable life in Castro’s Cuba?
…as thousands of Haitian refugees, including their children, rotted in an internment camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The right wing wing spin on these events was shameless in the extreme.
And it worked.
A substantial portion of America’s so-called ‘conservatives’ embraced these themes about conflict between private citizens and “jack-booted thugs” serving the Federal Government. That these thugs were presumed to serve liberal interests goes without saying, not that that story makes any sense. All of this dovetails with the standard rhetoric from the NRA (“from my cold dead hands…”), and it must have been a real comfort to white supremacists to see otherwise mainstream Republicans taking common cause with them on conflicts with Federal authorities. If the KKK and its brethren had lingered in the wilderness of American politics for a time, this narrative about armed conflicts with the Feds brought them in out of the cold.
Today’s Republican Party gives them a place at the table.
On a personal note: it was this theme that led me to wash my own hands of the gun culture. I’d grown up with firearms, loved them at one point in my life, and still harbored a soft spot in my heart for firearms. Listening to the growing fanaticism of the gun lobby, back in the 90s, I came to see the gun lobby as a positive evil independent of the firearms themselves. Whatever the ins and outs of gun control, it just isn’t a good thing to have a substantial portion of the American public openly fantasizing about armed conflict with the Federal Government. In selling its products to the right wing through such stories, the NRA and their allies do us all a great disservice.
It’s one thing to talk about gong to war with the Federal Government, but that begs the question of just who will you be fighting when that happens. When Timothy McVeigh addressed that question in 1995, his answer was people in a government building in Oklahoma City.
Those people included children.
Anyone who couldn’t see this coming was beyond blind to the realities of right wing politics.
Then, as now, they talked about such things openly. One has only to take them at their word.
I still recall a leader from the very Michigan Militia which McVeigh had ties with speaking at a televised “Town Hall” meeting after the bombing. He cited a long litany of abuses by the Federal government as partt of the reason for his own politics. I still remember that one of the horrors he cited was the Sand Creek massacre, an event carried about by the Third Colorado Cavalry, in affect a local militia. The American public learned about events at Sand Creek largely through the efforts of Federal troops who refused to take part in it. None of this prevented the event in question from becoming fodder for the relentless story of big government run amok and the hope that militias could counter that.
The irony of that was excruciating!
I thought about all of this when I heard that Michigan Militia had recently plotted to kidnap and put Governor Whitmer on trial. I thought about that plot recently as I watched video of a domestic terrorist inside Congressional buildings with his face covered and police-style zip-ties in his hand. I try not to jump to conclusions, but it’s hard to escape the notion that he was looking to make his political enemies into hostages. And if that seems to extreme to think about, one has only to remember that McVeigh’s own efforts to put right wing rhetoric into practice.
It should not surprise us to find that people who speak of the government as their enemy would be willing to carry out violent attacks against that very government.
In the past few days I have been told by numerous people that the recent attack on our government was carried out by extremists, that the actual violence was done by Antifa, and that no-one, not even Donald Trump himself has sanctioned their crimes or their violence. Of course it isn’t the first time that right wing violence has been blamed on Antifa, but this is a particularly shameless version of that theme. Anyone who thought this was going to be peaceful would have been naive in the extreme to do so. Anyone who thought Trump wished it to be so was ignoring the extremism of his own rhetoric (and the precedent he set in encouraging people to beat protesters at his rallies back in 2016), Plausible deniability is an art form in right circles, and Trump is one of its greatest practitioners, but the extremist rhetoric used to sell the “wild” protest could hardly be thought innocent. Trump wanted a disruptive presence in Washington on the day his loss would become official. Nothing short of stopping Congress in its tracks would have served his purposes.
Anyone who says that Donald Trump or his supporters are not responsible for these events is a Goddamned liar.
I have also been told that one of the problems here is the degree to which the media, the courts, and the rest of us have been dismissive of concerns about the integrity of the election. This was an insurrection to be sure, but it was an insurrection led, so I am told, by people whose voice and whose votes have been silenced by the powers that be.
And here we have it!
This is the ultimate pay-off for all these years of underdogging right wing politics. An action carried out in the service of the President of the United States, a man born to wealth and sporting a long history of abusing it, will count for so many cultural conservatives as being done out of love for the common citizen. An effort to set aside the legitimate votes of 80 million Americans is, in effect, no more than an effort to protect the rights of the voters. And a mob full of people who literally attacked our nation’s government still counts as patriots! Those whose hatred of American government, of liberal politicians, and even of the newly demonized Vice President, still count as having acted out of love for their country.
At times, it seems like there is no real difference between the Democratic Party and that of the Republicans. At other times, the difference seems loud and clear. In other moments you can practically see the gap between the two parties widening.. South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem’s response to Joe Biden up above is one such moment.
Scratch that: It’s two!
First we have Joe Biden suggesting that he will help struggling Americans once he becomes President.
Then we have Kristi Noem reminding us of the old Reagan quote to the effect that the worst thing you can hear is that someone from the government is coming to help you.
By 2 moments when the gap between Republicans and Democrats widens, you might think I mean, first Biden’s comment, then Noem’s, but I don’t. I mean the Reagan quote and then Noem’s use of it. Those two references reveal the ever-deepening cynicism of the Republican Party.
It was Reagan that really embedded the libertarian themes in modern Republican politics. He did so through folksy statements like the one Noem’s quoted above, statements which contributed to a growing sense that government couldn’t be used to solve real-world problems, and a sense that this view was as natural to any real Americans as life itself. Through statements like that one, Reagan took the GOP in a direction which would become ever more hostile to American government. What might have sounded like skepticism at first, the response of those unconvinced in the efficacy of government aid, has become ever more strident, until we have now reached a moment wherein the faithful cannot bring themselves to even the possibility of that government could do anything but hurt people.
The trajectory that takes people from this modest skepticism to the fanatical anti-government stance we see in so many today is a simple shift from figurative speech to literal interpretation. One has only to take Reagan’s clever turn of a phrase literally. One has only to mean it, and to mean it literally.
One of the ironic things about Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric? It came from a fan of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of the New Deal, a President who did more to insert government into American lives than any President in American history. Reagan was fond of saying he wasn’t the one that changed; it was the Democrats, but this plainly not true. Reagan changed from a man who could celebrate a champion of big government to one who preached against government programs every chance he got.
Statements from Reagan like the one Noem chose to quote above helped to build a new anti-governemnt ideology that now underscores the ideology of modern Republicans. Those seeking government aid are not merely wrong-headed, they are a source of positive evil. You can see this world view in Newt Gingrich’s contract With America, and in the careers of every pundit with a prominent place in the right wing echo chamber. You can also see it in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and in the rhetoric of local ‘militia’s’ all over the United States. More to the point, you can see it in Noem’s glib dismissal of the possibility that a new President could actually help the American people during a time of crisis.
What we see in the modern GOP is a cult which takes Reagan’s maxim quite literally. This is not mere skepticism; it is a pious confrontation with evil itself. What they see in any effort to use the power of government to help Americans is nothing less than a genuine attack on the American people. The horrors they imagine to follow from government aid are more real to the true believers in the Republican Party than the realities of Covid19 or its economic consequences. The possibilities of government aid seem more terrible to them than the actual deaths of their friends and family. We are thus left with a political party that not only fails to take reasonable steps to combat a pandemic, it actively resists those efforts and even takes steps (such as Trump rallies) to endanger more people.
What does it take to make sense of the Republican Party and its refusal to take responsible measures in combating this life-threatening disease? One needs only to take them at their word.
People like Kristi Noem do not think government can help people.
I always thought Morton Downey Jr.’s cigarette would make a fitting symbol of the modern Republican Party. I remember seeing him blow the smoke into the faces of liberals he would bring on his show to shout at. I remember him using that cigarette as a symbol of defiance, a misguided token of individual freedom standing strong against a world of oppressive liberalism. The dangers of secondary smoke had finally sunk into the public’s mind, and people (not just liberals) were beginning to protect themselves from it. With Americans putting up ‘no smoking’ signs in institutions all across the nation, Mort smoked like a chimney just to spite them. He shared his smoke with others whenever he could, at least when the cameras were rolling, and this obnoxious act of self-destruction, discourtesy, and outright assault helped to define him as a ‘conservative’ voice in the ever more carnival circles of right wing politics. He became a shining star of right wing politics, for a time, riding a wave of support with a cigarette in his hand.
And then of course it killed him.
As I recall, it was Rush Limbaugh who replaced him when Downey got himself fired from a radio gig in Sacramento California. Rush also replaced Downey in his role as the most prominent right wing loud mouth. Rush got to keep that role way longer than Downey did, and he accomplished way more with it too. Rush substantially transformed ‘conservative’ politics in the age of Clinton (or more to the point, Newt). Through Rush Limbaugh, bigots and bullies everywhere learned to call themselves ‘conservatives,’ and through Rush conservatives learned to lean less on the authority of age-old traditions and enjoy the role of petulant children defying the authority of liberals whenever and whenever possible. Where old-school conservatives would invoke timeless truths as though speaking with an ancient voice, Ditto-heads mocked and sneered like the slackers from the back of the classroom.
Limbaugh also took on the role of the public smoker in chief. I don’t recall seeing him blow smoke in anybody’s face, but then again, I don’t recall seeing Rush ever spend much time in the company of those who didn’t share his childish pseudo-conservative politics. What I do remember is countless images of him with a cigar in his hand or in his mouth and a smug look on his face. He too wanted us to know that we couldn’t stop him from smoking. He too wanted everyone to know that we couldn’t stop him from killing himself. He was enjoying his personal freedom and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it.
It isn’t merely that these two clowns have smoked themselves into cancer. Were that the case, I really would consider it their own business. No, what makes this all a matter of public concern is their use of tobacco in fashioning their own self-image. Both used smoking to symbolize right wing politics, to cast their own personal dances with death in the guise of rebellion and to cast efforts to combat the tobacco industry as just so much arrogance by the left. Just as Mort before him, Rush minimized the threats of secondary smoke. He too denied the health risks that smokers impose on others as well as themselves. Limbaugh too celebrated a known health risk on a regular basis, and he too turned it into a disingenuous symbol of rebellion against authority.
To hear these professional morons speak, American smokers had become freedom fighters and accomplished healthcare professionals become just another form of meddlesome liberal out to take your freedoms.
Sadly, this is hardly an unusual feature of right wing politics, not just the self-destruction part; the taking the rest of us with them part as well. From pollution controls and safety standards throughout industry to the flagrant refusal to address climate change, right wing pseudo-conservative politics embraces countless risks to human health and happiness. They flaunt the half-based idiocy of Sunday-Morning Scientists in answer to the work of dedicated scientific professionals on countless issues of public policy. They consistently do so in the name of personal freedoms and stories about confrontation with left wing authoritarianism.
These fuckers will one day kill us all.
Mort’s cigarette and Rush’s cigar really are perfect symbols of what American ‘conservatism’ has become.
So, the Trump campaign has launched a brand new website intended to help their supporters ‘win’ arguments over the Holiday dinner tables. (No, I’m not linking to the damned thing; you can find it yourself if you like.) I seem to recall the deplorable pundits encouraging their faithful to harass us at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Now they’ve decided to press the fight on into Christmas as well.
…and supposedly, it’s liberal secularists that are trying to ruin Christmas, but whatever!
How are they pitching this little bundle of disinformation? According to CBS News:
“We’ve all seen the news articles about liberal snowflakes being afraid to see their MAGA relatives at Christmas or holiday gatherings, so the Trump campaign wants people to be ready,” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump campaign national press secretary, said in a statement. “We’re not helping snowflakes avoid arguments – we’re helping Trump supporters win them! As 2019 draws to a close and 2020 approaches, President Trump and Americans are going to be winning, winning, and winning, and then winning some more!”
Which brings to mind a certain question. Why is it that we liberals are the ones ducking these Holiday discussions? Why is it that we are the ones consciously trying to avoid politics with friends and family over the Holiday season. I suppose there may be some counter-examples, obviously there are, but I do think the general pattern is those pushing this sight see it; liberals are the ones who would rather not engage even as deplorables are only too happy to spill their love of the Manchurian Cheeto all over the room, regardless of the season.
Frankly, I think this quote, commonly attributed to Bill Murray sums it up rather nicely. (Speaking of which, does anybody out there know when Murray said that? Or if it really was him?) It isn’t a fear of losing the argument so much as the knowledge that any argument worth making will be wasted on some folks. We’ve all been there, and the headache just isn’t worth it. Also, quite frankly, the fear of seeing the darker truths about people we know and love. It sucks when you realize that someone you really care about shows you that that they are only of egg-nogs away from telling a bunch of really racist jokes. It’s unpleasant to realize that a close friend or relative doesn’t check his facts before opening his mouth and can’t be corrected when called out on it. It’s genuinely horrifying to realize that someone you love is just fine with seeing certain people suffer needlessly (ahem! Children in cages on our borders or living under the bombs in any number of places around the world). It isn’t just the unpleasantness of disagreement that makes some of us wary of Holiday discussions, it’s those moments when you can’t help seeing a trace of cruelty or willful deceit underlies the politics of some people you’d like to love. Sure, sometimes people make a reasonable argument from the other side. Even a right wing clock is right twice a day, so to speak, but sometimes, all-too-often really, it isn’t the challenging case that makes us uncomfortable, much less the cold hard-to-explain fact, it’s the moment you see the genuine cruelty in a friend or family member. Politics brings that out in people, some people at any rate.
With Trump in the White House, politics is bringing it out of them a lot more often.
If Hell is the impossibility of reason, then Holiday Hell is the impossibility of reasoning with a half-drunk uncle. The White House wants to see more of that happening today and tomorrow. Apparently, this year it isn’t enough to fight an imaginary war on Christmas or to do as Trump has done in the past, which is to take credit for the fact that people are wishing each other Merry Christmas again, and hope that people won’t notice that most never stopped in the first place. Now they want us to argue more over Christmas.
This is just one more example of trump’s old promise that he will deliver countless wins to his followers. Like so many other ‘winning’ moments, this one is a manufactured moment of one-up-manship, a pointless battle designed to give someone lacking any semblance of character a chance to feel he got the better of someone else. It is neither patriotism nor conservatism. It certainly isn’t Christianity.
And it really isn’t much of a win when you think about it.
Which is to say that it is just like everything else Trump has brought to us over the last 3 years.
Yesterday, the Idiot-in-Chief retweeted this little bit of tripe from one of the lesser grifters riding his crappy coattails to fame. This retweet an entire Gish Gallop in a single tweet. Seriously, you could write a book on the many ways in which this is simply stupid.
Idiots will idiate!
But the particular idiocy that I keep coming back to is this. This is the President of the United States, and Epstein was a high profile suspect in a Federal institution. Epstein’s welfare was the direct responsibility of federal officials, and those officials answer to Trump. If Jeffrey Epstein was killed by ANYONE, it is ultimately the responsibility of Donald Trump. More to the point, that Epstein died in this facility absolutely IS Donald Trump’s responsibility. No hypotheticals needed! Yet trump sits there, just like any other couch-potato, musing on the possibility that something awful might have happened as if he were not himself implicated in the very rumors he is spreading.
Donald Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the world. (Well, to be honest, that status would probably belong to Putin, but that aside,…) Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the United States, and yet he still reacts to major political events as though he is simply Archie Bunker sitting in the comfy chair with nothing better to go on than his first impression of a news item and no more responsibility for the events in question than any other guy who just walked into his living room tired from a long day of work and sat down in a chair to learn about events well beyond his scope of power and expertise. The problem here is that Donald Trump isn’t just another guy sitting in a chair learning about the news from the pundits of his personal choice. He is in charge of the institutions in question and this death happened on his watch. Ideally the President of the United States should do more and know more than this President appears to, and there is every indication that this appearance of a hapless hackwit with neither self-awareness nor public consciousness is absolutely the underlying reality of this living facade.
There is no underlying truth to anything Trump says or does, no deeper meaning or real intention underlying the many misleading slogans which constitute the entirely of his political engagement. Donald Trump is the surface impression he creates, nothing more and nothing less.
…all of which is why it is so disturbing to see the President talking as though he were not implicated in events unfolding under his own authority. Donald Trump is the proverbial man (as in ‘the man’) talking about the politics of his day as if he were just another underdog, just another guy trying to make sense of another scandal, a scandal in which he doesn’t seem to see himself, even though he is all over it.
It’s an iconic moment, this tweet. Trump at his Trumpiest. It is also the present GOP and its most GOPest, a party completely devoid of any sense of responsibility for anything it or its members do.
I suppose Republicans have played the underdog for as long as I can remember, but that particular theme wasn’t always quite so prominent as it is now. There was a time when it was substantially overshadowed by themes of respectability and adherence to time-honored traditions. When I was in college Republicans were more likely to hold themselves up as the standard of moral and intellectual propriety from which liberals sought to free themselves. Back then the proverbial Man was understood to be a conservative Republican, and Republicans typically assumed a level of authority across the board which is fundamentally inconsistent with the ethos of rebellious underdogs fighting the powers that be. They were the ones telling the rest of us how to live, and quite often they were happy to tell us why they had the authority to do that.
If you ask me, it was Rush Limbaugh. It was Limbaugh that taught conservatives the joys of playing the smartass in the back of the room instead of posing as the Professor and then having to answer somebody else’s smartass questions. Limbaugh never tried to assert the authority of tradition; he always preferred to mock the efforts to liberals in whatever they happened to be doing. He set aside the authority tat was once so central to ‘conservative’ politics and instead opted to play the underdog fighting against somebody else’s authority.
It was also Limbaugh that taught bigots and bullies all over the country to think of themselves as conservatives, and to filter their hatreds through a political lens. You don’t hate blacks or Mexicans or women or homosexuals, or any of these people, so went Limbaugh’s message. No, you hate liberals, and you can always identify a liberal by their willingness to advocate for any of these groups. What looks on the surface to be hatred of an oppressed minority is instead, according to Limbaugh, rebellion against the oppression of those who would tell you how to think and act. That was a powerful message, a bigotry-laundering, and a successful one at that. Today’s bigots don’t just come out and say that they hate this group or that group; they consistently tie their contempt to some narrative about liberalism. It’s liberalism that they really hate, so they want to believe, even if their anti-liberalism means consistent attacks on underprivileged minorities.
In point of fact, Limbaugh’s hyper-politicization of prejudice goes hand-in-hand with his assumption of under-dog status. In retrospect, this was the real-pay-off for decades of PC-bashing. It enabled ‘conservatives’ to disavow any sense of responsibility for the real world outcomes of anything people experienced as a result of the culture wars. In their rejection of political correctness, hateful words directed at the powerless became spirited rebellion aimed at the real powers that be, and those who sought to help the unfortunate became oppressors in the new plantation system. (Don’t laugh, the DNC as a plantation system is a prominent theme in republican circles. It’s shit, yes, but the deplorables are eating that shit right up!)
What Limbaugh did was to help the racism goes down by teaching conservatives to think of someone else as the real authority. That authority could be the liberals, the Democrats, the coastal elites, Hollyweird, or whatever else you care to imagine as the over-arching power behind any policy that might help the underprivileged. Either way, someone else always had the power, and the expression of prejudice became, under his influence, resistance to that authority. When you use the N-word, you’re not really attacking African-Americans. No, you are just offending liberals. If they weren’t so touchy, then you wouldn’t have done it, right? How many times has Limbaugh played this gambit and countless others like it? And how many of those now flashing the ‘OK’ sign in racist circles have done so just because it would offend liberals, not because they endorse white supremacy.
…supposedly at any rate.
Anyway, my point is that all this PC-bashing which has long since become central to ‘conservative’ Republican thinking effectively transformed the GOP’s relationship to power and authority. They are no longer the 80s-era Christians telling us who to marry or what books to read or how we should dress. No, now they are the ones defying authority. And thus punching down has come to look an awful lot like standing up to the Man in the rhetoric of cultural conservatives.
Donald Trump took over the market for this message in his Presidential campaign. PC-bashing was a big part of his act from the very beginning. Nobody has ever inhabited the role of the politically incorrect rebel with such abandon. Under Trump, defiance of political correctness became everything from the usual racial epithets and sexist slurs to outright violence against protesters or explicitly discriminatory policies. In being politically incorrect, Trump wasn’t just hurting people’s feelings; he was declaring his intent to hurt people in very real and very tangible ways. Lest we dwell on his victims too much, trump has always (true to form) called our attention to some external power, some liberal authority, that is always the real reason things had to get so ugly. Trump’s every exercise of power counts now as defiance of the ultimate power, the ‘deep state.’ With such a fictional power somewhere out there, how could any mere mortal be anything but an underdog?
…unless of course that person was an emissary of the deep state!
But that role, the role of a deep state emissary, is of course reserved for Trump’s enemies. By definition, they are the real powers that be. If someone gets in his way, they are the ones working to maintain the status quo. And Donald trump’s every abuse of authority takes on the significance of fighting the power of that deep state and its surrogates. The children who have suffered in his internment camps are really the victims of that deep state, so the deplorables tell us, just as those who died in those camps are really victims of the deep state. Everyone he hurts is really the victim of that other power, the shadowy deep state that made all of this necessary. That is reality as Trump and his ilk understand it. So when this faux-Underdog in orange is sitting on his ass learning that his own people have let an important prisoner die, then he too can imagine that it must really be the fault of someone else.
Someone with REAL power!
It stands to reason that Trump would blame the Clintons. Of course they too may have reasons for wanting Epstein to be silent, so he can make a case for it, but Trump has other reasons for pointing at the Clintons; those that have more to do with story-line. The notion that the Clintons did it fits the narrative he has been using since the 2016 campaign. Far from diminishing her authority, Trump inflated it. He made Hillary into a surrogate for anything the government had ever done that his fans might have found objectionable. Whatever powers she might have had as a Senator or a former First Lady, they were dwarfed in comparison to the power that trump attributed to her in his campaign rhetoric. I lost track of the number of times Trump blamed Hillary for anything that did or didn’t happen in Congress when she was there (and even when she wasn’t). Trump held Hillary personally responsible for things well beyond her control so many times in the actual debates it was laughable. As if she, simply by being a Senator, were directly responsible for everything Congress (or the President) did. I wondered then, as I do now, how anyone could be so gullible as to believe him? But I also knew it was a powerful story-line. It made Hillary a symbol of government, of the establishment, of anything that disaffected Americans could imagine themselves to be up against.Trump then had only to oppose her to become a hero to many.
…even to those who would be hurt by his policies.
In Trump’s rhetoric, Hillary (and the Clintons in general) came to represent the government as it is and he came to represent government as anyone might imagine they wanted it to be. (That Trump never really provided policy details or even finished his own damned sentences certainly made it easier for others to imagine the details as they wished.) The logic of Trump’s rhetoric has consistently made Hillary (and the Democrats) responsible for actual policy and real-world consequences. He in turn occupies an ideal world of government that is divorced from anything, even his own policies. So, I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in Congress have been responsible for every failure of the Trump administration. Neither should it come as any surprise that we’ve been hearing “What about Hillary” for close to 3 years now. To the deplorables, she is still government as they imagine it to be, or at least everything that’s wrong with it, and Trump is still government as they might hope it will be. Anything bad that actually happens is still her fault. This symbolism just isn’t affected by facts. It never was. And that is why countless people look to her whenever something goes wrong, even if it is directly the result of something Trump himself has done.
It’s also why a President whose own Department of Justice somehow took one of the most important prisoners off suicide watch can sit there on his ass and wonder out loud if the Clintons didn’t really do it.
I just watched an entire day of Senate Testimony on that very topic and I still don’t know one way or the other.
Should Brett Kavanaugh be on the U.S. Supreme Court?
If ever I had any doubts as to that judgement, today’s testimony was certainly enough to alleviate them. Of course, the man is a real threat to liberal politics, and I knew that before today. With a Republican President (even a complete lunatic of a Republican President), I would expect no less. But being opposed to someone’s politics, and thinking them unqualified for office aren’t exactly the same thing. After watching him today, however, I am convinced this man has neither the character nor the professionalism that one ought to expect of a Supreme Court Justice, regardless of his political persuasion.
Well, let me tell ya!
First, let me say that there are a couple variants of political hard-ball to which I do not really object, at least not on principle. Frankly, I think the Democrats would be well within their rights to reject any and all nominees the Trump administration puts forward at this point. The Republican Party made it damned clear that they weren’t going to work with Democrats when Barack Obama was in power, and I see no reason why the Democrats should be any more accommodating now that the Republicans dominate every branch of government. With a Supreme Court already tilted far to the right, this next appointment could well close quite a few doors for liberals and even moderates well into the foreseeable future. So, if Democrats want to fight about it, I’m on board to support them. Their prospects for victory are another question. What tactics are permissible, or even practical? That too is another question.
So, if the Democrats had wanted to just say ‘no’ and stick with that without even providing an argument on the merits of this particular nominee, that would be fine by me. The problem is of course, that they don’t presently have the numbers to win such a battle. The Republicans will beat them in a vote, and there is only so much you can do with procedural gambits. Even the filibuster will only accomplish just so much these days.
So, what’s to stop the Republicans from just ramming the whole nomination through? Apparently nothing. And why not? I may not like it. Other liberals may not like it. By I’m not sure they owe us any real seat at the table. As I mentioned, I think it’s Republicans that broke the goodwill necessary to negotiate these things in good faith, but the fact is that no such good faith exists at this time. Republicans and Democrats are no longer simply parties likely to disagree; they are enemies Hell-bent on each others’ destruction. There is no use crying about it or pretending otherwise. The bottom line is neither side here can be expected to make any effort to work with the other. Democrats were bound to say ‘Hell no’ going into this, and Republicans were bound to say “go fuck yourselves!” Anyone who was surprised by the vicious nature of this process has not been paying attention.
Our country is broken, folks. That’s a fact.
So how did things stand going into this? Right wingers assure us that Kavanaugh is an upstanding jurist with impeccable credentials. Having spent the last decade as a circuit court Judge, Kavanaugh is certainly qualified to handle important questions of constitutional law. Critics point to history of political extremism, much of it stemming from his work on the Starr investigation and later in the Bush administration. Kavanaugh may be an accomplished Judge, but he is also a judge with a history of highly partisan brinksmanship behind him.
One of the more serious (and odd) questions about Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve as a judge stems from his purchase of baseball tickets which led him to amass anywhere from $60,000-$200,000 in debt, which was paid off quite suddenly and without any clear explanation as to how. (It’s not likely the money could have come from his own salary.) That’s hardly enough evidence to convict the man of a crime, but it’s certainly cause for concern about the ability of a judge to do his job without undue influence by outside parties.
Perhaps the most serious questions about Kavanaugh’s professional conduct stem from the 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings in which critics allege Kavanaugh misled the Senate on his role in the hiring process for several parties, and in the adoption of warrantless wiretapping procedures after 9-11. In the confirmation hearings of the time, Kavanaugh adopted the practice is answering questions about his involvement in these politically touchy matters with hedging statements about whether or not he ‘handled’ a case or took a lead role, etc. He may or may not have maintained this word-game consistently throughout the process, but it certainly had the effect of misleading the Senate into the impression the he played little or no role in decisions over which subsequent revelations have shown clear involvement on his part. Whether or not this amounts to perjury, depends on who you ask. However you might answer that question, it certainly reveals a pattern of deceitful conduct in the confirmation process, and that alone could be a deal breaker for some folks thinking about his present nomination.
It should be.
And then there are the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Pardon me, predatory sexual misconduct.
It’s important to remember that Kavanaugh is not merely accused of doing something sexually inappropriate; he is accused to doing so against the will of the women involved. Whether or not there is any evidence to support these accusations, it is important to recognize the gravity of the accusations themselves. Kavanaugh is accused to consciously and willfully hurting the women in question, not merely getting fresh, but of taking steps to thwart their efforts to fend him off. That’s not just inappropriate; its predatory.
For purposes of brevity (lost hope that that is) I shall stick with the one accusation at issue in today’s hearings. This accusation comes from Christine Blasey Ford, who maintains that Kavanaugh and a friend, Mark Judge, pulled her into a room during a party back in high school, closed and locked the door, and sexually assaulted her. (More detail is just a google away.)
Many find Ford’s accusation in itself troublesome, partly because of the length of time between the event in question and the moment at which she went public, and partly because Senator Diane Feinstein had been aware of it for sometime before presenting it to the committee reviewing Kavanaugh’s nomination. Why did Feinstein wait so long? Many feel it was because this is an obvious ploy to delay the Senate’s confirmation vote. She maintains that Ford had asked her to keep the accusation confidential until the late date. So, which is it? Both is certainly an option. As to the length of time it took Ford to come forward, this does put a Hell of a strain on the effort to establish the facts of the case. Nevethertheless efforts to cast this delay as obvious proof that Ford is lying fall flat. Far from unusual, such delays are common among subject to sexual abuse. They often face serious backlash and stigma, and the accused often go unpunished. Not surprisingly, such victims often try to live with it themselves. This sort of thing may throw a wrench in the conceits of critical thinker hoping to sort the whole matter out with an honest debate, but it remains the task of committees like this to do their best.
It is worth bearing in mind that this is not a criminal trial. Kavanaugh will not go to prison on account of today’s events, but he might lose a job over it (maybe two). The question here is not whether or not he has been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Quite the contrary; it is whether or not the Senate can say with confidence that he belongs on the highest court in the land.
Watching today’s hearing, I saw little in the way of objective evidence telling us whether or not Kavanaugh did the things Ford said he did. There are several angles that could be taken to find out more, one of them of course being the possibility of asking the FBI to investigate the charges. Other options may exist, to be sure, but that is one with a degree of promise, not because the FBI will make any decisions on the matter, but because they can help to sort out many of the details at issue in the case. In any event, that would take some time. How much time, nobody can say, but it’s a fair bet they wouldn’t have a decision ready by tomorrow, which is when the Senate plans to vote on the matter. In the interim, there just isn’t much factual information to go on, certainly none that points conclusively one way or another.
This is certainly a problem. It may even be a problem for which Ford and/or Feinstein bear some responsibility. Were this a criminal trial, it would probably be enough of a problem to get the whole case tossed out, but this is not a trial, it is a political decision, and that decision is about whether or not Kavanaugh is worthy of a seat on the court.
Luckily, today’s proceedings did give us plenty of information to help answer that question. Simply put, Kavanaugh’s approach to the hearing was beyond reprehensible. No, I am not talking about his anger. It might be fair to suggest a nominee for such a high position ought to be more composed than he was, but I think the nature of the accusations make an emotional response understandable. There may even have been an element of an conscious choice to it, one perhaps urged by the idiots currently occupying the White House. Still, I think it best to give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt as to his emotions. No. What bothers me isn’t his combativeness it’s the pattern of deceit he revealed in his answers to the Democratic Senators.
First, there is the whole matter of whether or not Kavanaugh would support asking the FBI to investigate the case. Asked this question repeatedly, Kavanaugh dodged it every time. He blamed the Democrats for delaying the investigation themselves. He lectured people on the limits of such an investigation as if literally every person in the room and a good number of us watching on television didn’t already know those limitations. He tried all manner of ways to explain why such a request might not be necessary. What he didn’t do, couldn’t bring himself to do, was simply answer the question. Hell, I could have done it for him; “No sir. I want this over. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow, and I want this concluded at that time. Full stop.” …I really think that was the answer (unless the real answer had something to do with fears of what the FBI could find). However he might have explained his response, Kavanaugh’s failure to answer a simple yes or no question is a index of insincerity.
Kavanaugh’s refusal to support inclusion of Mark Judge directly in the hearings was similarly evasive. Kavanaugh kept telling us that Judge had already spoken on the matter, but a simple question from Leahy very quickly demonstrated the value of questioning Judge directly in a hearing. Neither Kavanaugh, nor the Republican Senators ever acknowledged this fact, and their excuses grew increasingly disingenuous over the course of the hearing.
Kavanaugh was also asked to explain several comments in his High School, yearbook. Here is a copy of the text as produced by Vox.com (the relevant quotes are in red):
Varsity Football 3, 4; J. V. Football 2; Freshman Football 1; Varsity Basketball 3, 4 (Captain); Frosh Basketball (Captain); J. V. Basketball (Captain); Varsity Spring Track 3; Little Hoya 3, 4*** Landon Rocks and Bowling Alley Assault — What a Night; Georgetown vs. Louisville — Who Won That Game Anyway?; Extinguisher; Summer of ‘82 — Total Spins (Rehobeth 10, 9…); Orioles vs. Red Sox — Who Won, Anyway?; Keg City Club (Treasurer) — 100 Kegs or Bust; [redacted] — I Survived the FFFFFFFourth of July; Renate Alumnius; Malibu Fan Club; Ow, Neatness 2, 3; Devil’s Triangle; Down Geezer, Easy, Spike, How ya’ doin’, Errr Ah; Rehobeth Police Fan Club (with Shorty); St. Michael’s…This is a Whack; [redacted] Fan Club; Judge — Have You Boofed Yet?; Beach Week Ralph Club — Biggest Contributor; [redacted] — Tainted Whack; [redacted]; Beach Week 3-107th Street; Those Prep Guys are the Biggest…; GONZAGA YOU’RE LUCKY.
Michael Avenatti suggests that the FFFFFFourth reference is slang for “Find them, French them, Feel them, Finger them, F*ck them, Forget them.”
Others have suggested that the Devil’s Triangle was a reference to sex involving two boys and a girl.
Some have suggested that boofing is either sex in general or anal sex in particular.
According to Kavanaugh, the first was a joke about the way a friend pronounced the F-word, the second is a drinking game like quarters, and the third refers to farting. If Kavanaugh is telling the truth, these comments might be crude, but they are essentially consistent with his own self-presentation as a man who retained his virginity for several years after high school. If he is wrong, then these are lies, as is his earlier effort to present himself as a virgin at the time this was published.
More importantly, Kavanaugh’s response to the phrase “Renate Alumnius” suggests genuine malice. In today’s hearing, he suggested that this was merely a way to show that he and his classmates wanted to include a young lady, Renate Schroeder (now Renate Schroeder Dolphin) from a nearby school in their yearbook. In was not, he stated, a reference to sexual conquest as others have suggested. The problem is that she herself was unaware of these comments made by Kavanaugh and several of his male classmates. If the point was to include her, they forgot the most important part, which was actually talking about it with her. Still more to the point, when she herself learned about this, Renate was angry (even withdrawing her name from the list of 65 women supporting his character in the wake of Ford’s accusations). When Senator Blumenthal asked Kavanaugh about Dolphin’s reaction in today’s hearing, Kavanaugh feigned outrage, suggesting that Blumenthal was inappropriately sexualizing the comment.
That Dolphin herself interpreted the comment in question to be a sexual reference is clear enough from her own comments on the matter, but Kavanaugh pretends the implication has been fabricated by others. And thus he projects his own thinking in the yearbook onto those trying to call him out for it.
If the other denials are lies, Kavanaugh’s response to questions about Renate Dolphin amount to gaslighting.
Then of course, there is Kavanaugh’s repeated claims that all four people who were supposedly present at the party in Ford’s accusation have said it didn’t happen. At some point in the hearing, Kavanaugh was content to suggest that they didn’t remember it, which would be accurate, but by the end of the hearing, he kept telling everyone that the others had said it didn’t happen. ‘That didn’t happen’ and ‘I don’t remember it’ are not the same thing. There is a world of difference between those two claims, and I for one would expect anyone on the United States Supreme Court to know the difference between them. If this was a conscious deceit, then it was one worthy of a slow-witted sophomore; it isn’t a gambit worthy of an accomplished judge.
So there it is!
This is an awful lot of deceit for someone looking to be named a judge for life, let alone a justice on the highest court of the land. In the heat of the arguments, questions about these claims might have seemed a little suspicious, but upon reflection, they become a lot more important. Like Kavanaugh’s comments in his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings, his responses demonstrate a consistent effort to mislead the Senate regarding the matters at hand. Some of these deceits simply aren’t even necessary, or at least they wouldn’t have been if Kavanaugh hadn’t committed himself to a certain narrative about his sexual history. Whatever his reasons for producing them, these lies tell us a great deal about Kavanaugh’s character and his approach to legal matters.
Contrast this with Christine Blasey Ford, who conducted herself admirably throughout the hearing. She too had trouble handling her emotions, but she sure as Hell did a better job of it than Kavanaugh. Rachel Mitchel, the prosecutor who questioned Ford in this hearing brought out some inconsistencies in Ford’s overall story (her fear of flying, for example), but none of these proved central to the claims at hand. Significantly, Ford answered the questions in a straight-forward manner, conceded points and even corrected errors herself. We can say of Ford that she doesn’t have a lot of evidence proving that her accusations are true. What we can’t say of Ford is that she lied her way through the hearing. Kavanaugh definitely did. So, if I have nothing else to go on than the credibility of the two people in question, then I know damned well which one to go with. Simply put, Ford proved herself to be a more trustworthy witness.
Would I want to see a man locked up with so little to go on?
Am I comfortable denying someone a seat on the Supreme Court on that basis alone.
At the end of the day, this confirmation hearing still leaves us with an image of a political process so broken it taints everyone who touches it. Today’s hearing was a disaster. Something about America just doesn’t work anymore, and this hearing (like the other disaster unfolding in the White House) is just one symptom of it. But if we Americans really must charge right off a cliff, as we seem to be doing these days, then let us do it without this particular judge!
Kavanaugh does not belong on the Supreme Court. He doesn’t belong on a Circuit Court Either.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “political correctness” used approvingly and without irony. I’ve long since lost track of the number of times I’ve heard it used derisively. I regard it as one of the central ironies of modern politics that it hasn’t been politically correct to be politically correct since the notion first became a household term. This hasn’t stopped people from proudly proclaiming (often to great applause) the brave mantle of ‘Political Incorrectness’. Indeed, countless courageous souls have made sure we all know how little regard they have for political correctness. The near universal disregard for political correctness, as such doesn’t seem to faze its detractors. It pretty well goes without saying that if the subject is political correctness, the correct thing to say is that you’re against it. Do that, and you earn all kinds of points for being a independent minded maverick of sorts.
Just like all other independent mavericky people.
In fact, that story-line is so damned pat, you’d think even the dimmest among us would have second thoughts about it, but I guess not. The narrative is just too damned strong, and the benefits to plotting your politics inside it too great to resist. So, it pretty well goes without saying that anyone worth his salt would proclaim himself to be politically incorrect.
It’s the American thing to do!
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard the stories too, the PC-horror stories, I mean. Some of them piss me off too, and some of them are utter bullshit. It’s a big topic, and I could type out a lot of things about it, but for now I want to explore just one particular part of it.
That would be the part where a Presidential candidate and then a President (Donald Trump) would proudly proclaim his own political incorrectness. Among all the many absurdities that fly under the banner of the politically incorrect, there is at least one that is fairly unique to Donald Trump’s use of it. Because if there was anyone that we might expect to be politically correct, that we might actually want to be politically correct, you would think it would be the President of the United States.
Yes, I’m serious.
I realize that in most circles ‘Political correctness’ simply means whatever lefty political agenda people feel like dismissing at the moment, but if you stop and think about the phrase itself for just a minute, you might see some trace of a meaning that isn’t quite confined to that sort of canned polemic. Indeed, there is no particular reason respect for Christian values, honoring the troops, or celebrating a conventional American family would count as any less politically correct than support for gay marriage, celebration of black history month, or avoidance of any number of racial epithets. In principle, right wing causes could as easily count as political correctness as those of the left, and make no mistake about it; they are as likely to produce the sort of toxic pettiness that fill so many of those PC-horror stories people tell sometime between their second and third beers on a Friday night. We seem only use the word for left-wing causes, but there are numerous comparable cause in right wing circles. And if there is any trace of a positive meaning in that phrase, it’s this; that political correctness can mean thinking about the consequences of what you are about to say before you say it, taking into account the feelings of others and their likely reactions to your words before you decide what to say and do. That same notion may produce all sorts of stories about censorship, professional victimhood, and fake outrage. It also produces countless stories generally left untold, those in which someone finds just the right words, shows respect to people she might easily have slighted, or simply handles a tough topic with grace and dignity. We don’t seem to have a label for such stories. That label could as easily be ‘political correctness’ as any of those now provoking outrage in countless gossip circles all across the land.
To be sure, there are distinctions to be made between respect and dignity on the one hand and the pointless pettiness generally associated with stories of political correctness, but those distinctions don’t really fall along a left-right axis, and the phrase itself has never helped anyone to draw those distinctions with any care. Indeed sneering ‘political correctness’ at an issue is little other than an effort to avoid drawing those distinctions with anything approaching thoughtfulness and precision.
If there are those who have used the phrase with more care than i suggest, our current President is not among them. Think back to the infamous moment in which Megan Kelly (perhaps accidentally) separated herself from the right wing faithful, and you can see the character of Donald’s own use of ‘political correctness’. Asked about his frequent use of abusive words against any women who crossed him, Trump responded by saying that he didn’t have time to be politically correct. Of course that was after first trying to pass off the notion that he only denigrates Rosie O’Donnell, but when forced off that gambit, Trump settled on the notion that his lifetime of vicious personal attacks against myriad women was simply failure to obey the dictates of political correctness. Trump wasn’t asking us to reject some far left political agenda; he was asking the American public to accept his own personal vice on grounds that failure to do so would be an instance of political correctness. He was asking us to accept that the most flagrant contempt for common decency was somehow little other than a rejection of left-wing excess.
Here I must say, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sorrow, sorrow for the death of conservatism as I once knew it. Oh, I don’t count myself as a conservative, not since I was about 18 years old, but I’ve known many conservatives I have admired and respected over the years. They generally vote Republican and I rarely agree with them on much of anything, but if there is one thing that separates the old school conservatives I recall from my youth from the right wing politics of today, it is precisely the effectiveness of Trump’s ploy. There is simply nothing in cultural conservatism that is amenable to the kind of crass treatment Trump has dished out to women over the years. Not his personal attacks on female adversaries, and not asinine talk of sexual conquest. Time was, when conservatives would have been the first to object to such things, and perhaps some still do, but the bulk of the voting base for the Republican party seems to have shifted. Thus conventional respect for human beings in general, and conventional respect for women in particular became a sort of lefty, feminist, oppression, one gloriously vanquished with the promise of a President who couldn’t be pressured to treat a woman with dignity, at least not one marked for conquest, or one who had the audacity to get in his way.
I look back at Trump’s response to Kelly and marvel that anyone could find their way to a rationalization sufficient to support that guy. I also think about the time he stalked Hillary around the debate stage after threatening to lock her up and think the same thing. How did this kind of abuse become acceptable? In particular, how did it become acceptable to cultural conservatives? Near as I can tell, the answer lies in the narrative about political correctness. It recasts common crudeness, even cruelty, as a rejection of a obscure and nefarious political agenda, one no decent American would accept. That narrative alone was sufficient to lure millions of seemingly decent Americans to overlook some of the most brazenly abusive behavior to be displayed in public by a national politician.
It was a defining moment, and one that certainly doesn’t speak well of Trump’s character, or that of anyone who could defend it. It is objectionable in more ways that I could count, even with my shoes off, but the one objection that keeps haunting me is this simple thought; shouldn’t the President of the United States have time for political correctness? Isn’t that part of his job? When he enters into diplomatic negotiations, do we not want the President to be capable of choosing his words carefully? If you set aside the obvious angle of outright lefty-bashing, this is a job which requires all manner of careful judgements about what to say and what not to say, about who will be angry and what will they will do about it.
Only the stakes are much higher!
This is the thing that bothers me most about conventional PC-bashing. It makes a very convenient posture for many who, like Trump, seem think with their tongues. All too often, the notion that one is politically incorrect provides a ready-made excuse for all manner of perfectly conventional indiscretions. Sure, It’s the left wing that asks us to reconsider every day vocabulary for things like race, gender, and sexual orientation (among other things), but it’s not as though we are the only ones with any social sensitivities, and somehow the PC-bashing has became a sort of all-purpose excuse for the generally crass among us, the ones who just can’t be bothered to think before they talk.
People who cannot be bothered to consider how others will feel about their words seldom put much more thought into questions about the truth of those words. It’s one of the reasons why such people can be so damned sensitive themselves to any critical feedback they get. These folks can’t answer the criticisms and they know it, so they’d rather tell a story about the over-sensitivity of others, one which makes their first reflex into an unquestioned truth and the careful consideration of other just so much hogwash. PC-bashing ties this conventionally idiotic behavior to a broad range of set issues and it provides a blank check of sorts to anyone willing to play the role of the tough talking straight shooter.
It may seem that I am stretching the bounds of the concept. Political correctness doesn’t really cover that much of the issue, does it? Yet, I think it’s Trump who stretched the boundaries of the concept so broadly in this election, and not just in characterizing his contempt for women to political incorrectness. He also likened the expectation that people shouldn’t beat up protesters to political correctness. Trump himself has likened countless policy considerations regarding immigration, foreign diplomacy, and criminal law as instances of mere political correctness. And of course, it was Trump’s many sweeping attacks on Mexicans and Muslims that earned him the reputation as a ‘straight shooter’ back in the early days of his campaign. I never understood that. There was nothing straight or honest about Trump’s rhetoric, but so many seemed happy to equate rudeness with honesty that it became the standard media spin for awhile at least. Even Megan Kelly granted him that as she asked her infamous question. She too was willing to grant that Trump’s foolishness and cruelty should count as a kind of honesty. It’s the kind of equation best suited to the narratives of the politically incorrect.
…and it is doublespeak at its most deplorable!
It’s not just that Donald Trump expressed prejudice in his campaign rhetoric. He led with it. Prejudice was literally his first sales pitch. No, he didn’t say that all Mexicans were rapists, as his defenders often remind us, but he did say that Mexico was ‘sending’ its rapists. That wild accusation was not a call for immigration reform then, and it isn’t now. It was a clear and unmistakable signal to the racists in America that he would go after those they hated. How and when, and even why? All that would be made up later, …and so now we now get to see the GOP fiddle with token gestures at wall building. The physical wall that still haunts our policy discussions is merely the obligatory excretion of a rhetorical wall Trump built in that very first moment of his campaign. Through talk of a wall, Trump separated his supporters from the rest of us and polarized the nation as no American politician has done in my own life-time.
Why do we think of Trump’s various immigration restrictions as a ban on Muslims? Because he led with a call to ban entry of Muslims. It was only afterwards that Trump began walking the notion back to the various token policies now trotted before the courts. Ironically, folks now defend these policies by telling us Obama did the same thing (which is a stretch). This after Trump spent his entire campaign telling us how Obama wasn’t doing anything to protect us from terrorists. In any event, the point isn’t that Trump expressed a prejudice or three in the course of a campaign, or even in his Presidency. That would make him a run of the mill politician, perhaps even merely human. Prejudice was the centerpiece of his appeal from the beginning. It still is.
The result has been a non-stop clown show, a constant reminder that Trump doesn’t think before he speaks, writes, or even executive orders. We’ve all watched as his staff struggle to form policies around thoughtless statements and his surrogates have fought to rationalize the completely irrational utterances of the Ego-in-Chief. And this week we learn both that Trump sought to jail his critics in the press and that he shared intelligence secrets with Russian figures all in the space of a couple days. Whatever else this is, it is also the behavior of a man who doesn’t think before he does anything.
…and I can’t help but think all of this brings us right back to Trump’s response to Megan Kelly. He said he didn’t have time to be completely politically correct? In that very statement, Trump effectively told the entire nation that wasn’t then prepared to perform the duties of the President.
I was about 15 or 16 when my father cancelled our membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA). Money was tight back then, but Dad said that wasn’t entirely the issue. He was also fed up with their politics.
I was mortified.
The old “If guns are outlawed” sticker was then sitting on the bumper of my first car (which wasn’t yet running), and a stack of hunting and shooting magazines rested on a shelf in my bedroom. My private arsenal had already outgrown the gun-case. At the time, there just wasn’t much about the NRA that I didn’t like. Oh sure I’d noticed a myopic one-sidedness to some of the articles in those magazines, but for the most part, I was down for the main agenda. Dad never did explain to me what had bothered him about the NRA back then (the early 80s). I reckon he was just hoping I would grow a dose of moderation at some point. This was hardly the only obsession that could have given him cause for such concerns.
I guess Dad got his way on this one at least. My views on guns and gun control are complex. ‘Ambivalent’ may be a better word. My take on the legal issues doesn’t map well onto either the left or the right on the actual issue of gun ownership. I’m open to gun control, but skeptical of its impact (at least one any scale that’s practically possible in the present political climate). It hasn’t escaped my notice that I live in a region where firearms can be damned useful. (By way of illustration, one of my students took a job collecting plant samples this summer. Part of her training including a day or so learning how to handle a firearm. In the land of polar bears, a gun can be an essential part of scientific research.) I’ve also got a lot of friends and neighbors who feed themselves by use of firearms, and I’m not in the habit of turning down a good bowl of tutu (caribou) stew. The bottom line is that I won’t be campaigning for full disarmament anytime soon. Few do, really, but if complete disarmament is your bandwagon, then I am definitely not on board.
There is one other bandwagon I’m not climbing aboard any time soon, and that is the one run by the NRA. Any latent interest I might have had in that organization slipped away during the Clinton administration. The television ads from that era telling us that every honest gun owner ought to be a member didn’t exactly inspire me to get out my checkbook. Hearing countless people spouting their fears about ‘thuh guvment’ was enough to send shivers up my spine and put a large dose of queazy in the pit of my stomach. I recall “Impeach Clinton” bumper stickers within the first few months of his first administration. In time his critics would find reasons. In the interim, suddenly Bill Clinton was the source of the New World Order, notwithstanding Bush Senior’s use of the phrase to sell Desert Storm. Within the space of a single election, Clinton became the source of all that was wrong with the world. Seeing the same people who had supported centralization of power throughout the Reagan and Bush administrations suddenly play underdog against government authority was more than a little disconcerting.
It got a lot more disconcerting after the Oklahoma City bombing.
You can’t run a direct line of reasoning from Charlton Heston’s “take my gun from my cold dead hands” speech to that bombing, no, but these two notes fit in the same damned tune. The right wing now sings a constant chorus of ‘don’t tread on me’ messages, and most of them serve simultaneously to valorize the weekend warrior games of countless over-gown boys and to demonize the best efforts of anyone involved in pretty much any kind public service. Hating the government is a popular sport in what passes for ‘conservative’ circles these days. The problem is you can’t shoot at the government and you can’t bomb the government. Hell, you can’t even shout at the government. You can only do these things to real people, people who work for the government, and the trouble with demonizing that government is its a damned effective way to demonize real people. It’s a damned effective way to justify hurting real people. An awful lot of people died in Oklahoma City because someone decided to strike a blow against the government, and his ideas about that government had an awful lot in common with those pushed by the NRA for a couple decades now. Is the one the cause of the other? Maybe not, but it’s a damned reckless message just the same.
What I specifically object to is the scorched earth tactics that the NRA keeps producing. Talking of Second Amendment solutions and other confrontations with the government may sound like the words of brave people put-upon by dark forces and powerful institutions, but they are also clear and obvious efforts to intimidate the rest of us. While other interest groups go to the voting booths, hire lawyers to plead their case, or sometimes take to the streets with a sign or three, elements of the gun rights crowd keep threatening to use their guns under some unspecified conditions. It’s easy enough to imagine the scenario without its details. They will fight back against tyranny, of course; that’s what these people keep telling us. The problem of course is that tyranny may very well be a few unwelcome regulations and the tyrant may well be (as it was in Oklahoma City) ordinary people just trying to do their damned jobs.
Don’t get me wrong. For better or for worse, the Second Amendment is part of American government. There are certainly arguments to be made about its proper scope, and still other arguments to be made about the effectiveness of various gun control measures, but there is no excuse for the constant litany of violent fantasies surrounding firearms ownership. An awful lot of people keep telling us they and their guns are the best protection from government overreach, and every time I see or hear this message I find myself hoping for protection from precisely the folks producing it. I realize echos of this message come to us from the days of America’s founding fathers, but those echos have been twisted by ideology, augmented by fraudulent representations, and generally milked for everything they could possibly be worth. In the end, it isn’t America’s founders that keep this threat of violence alive in America’s politics today. It is the words and deeds of shameless people.
Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the second amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks, although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.
To say these remarks have sparked outrage is putting it mildly, but let’s be clear. This is not an obvious call for gun owners to assassinate Hillary Clinton. It isn’t even a clear call for armed rebellion in the case that Hillary wins the election. There isn’t really anything clear about this message at all, but then again there wouldn’t be.
It’s Trump, remember?
He and clarity have never really been on speaking terms.
What this rhetoric ALSO isn’t is a responsible case for the Second Amendment. To begin with, the claim that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment is hardly supported by the evidence. She favors a variety of gun control measures, yes. This does not mean she wishes to abolish the Second Amendment after all. It’s a straw Hillary that Trump is talking about, not the real one.
It’s really not clear how the straw Hillary who wants to abolish the Second Amendment altogether would even go about it, but it actually is clear that she couldn’t do it just by appointing a few judges. That move is neither sufficient nor necessary to do away with the Second Amendment (in principle or practice).
Hillary may well support gun control measures that many gun owners wouldn’t want to see passed. She may even advocate measures that ought not to be passed by any objective measure of their merits. Gun control measures, perfectly sound or bat-shit crazy, do NOT add up to the abolition of the Second Amendment. And let’s be clear, even Scalia, in the infamous Heller decision suggested that some regulations could be consistent with the existence of the Second Amendment, a Second Amendment he construed explicitly (and quite controversially as an individual right).
Simply put, regulations are on the table with or without Hillary as POTUS. Also the Second Amendment remains on the table with or without Hillary as POTUS. Far from the dooms-day scenario Trump trots out in this speech, another Presidential Clinton is at best/worst just another twist in the long case history of the Aecond Amendment. It’s not the end of the Second Amendment or civilization itself. So, yes, Trump is exaggerating, which is putting it mildly.
That exaggeration is not simply a mistake. Realizing just how badly Trump is exaggerating the prospect of a Presidential Hillary helps us understand how to take the comment that Second Amendment people might be able to do something about her after all. These Second Amendment people would be acting in a fantasy world in which a President, and a President alone is enough to render the legal landscape hopeless. If Trump is really suggesting something as mild as voting or rallying to his cause, then there is no need to raise the specter of a gun-grabbing apocalypse in preparation for it. His wording is ambiguous of course, but it’s the ambiguity of plausible deniability. And when speaking to millions, some of whom are clearly quite excitable, Trump’s message will take on many meanings. He knows that. The man is not THAT stupid. Many, perhaps most will take his words to mean something as radical as it takes to say something really rude to a cotton-picking liberal, but some will take them far worse. Some folks are quite prepared to kick their John Wayne fantasies into high gear. A responsible candidate knows this, and a responsible candidate doesn’t rouse his support base, or any subsection of it to the brink of violence.
He has been doing this throughout his campaign. I know of no other candidate in recent memory who has deliberately provoked violence at his own rallies, always falling short of directly calling for it, but often coming as close as one might without explicitly endorsing it.
During the primary season, the actual violence at campaign rallies clearly worked in Trump’s favor. What began as a series of news stories about Trump’s own supporters beating various protestors transitioned seamlessly into a series of stories about protestors engaged in all manner of violence against Trump’s own supporters.
Trump’s fighting words couldn’t help but fall on angry ears for his critics. Many of us have responded with such radical actions as a contemptuous tweet or a few minutes of outraged gripetude, but some took it further. Some engaged in genuine violence. The pay-off for Trump was obvious enough as he and his supporters played the victim and cast his critics as those with no respect for civil society.
What better context for Trump to present himself as the law-and order candidate!?!
A responsible candidate would have asked his supporters to step back and let security handle matters. If Trump said such things on some occasions, on others he talked about how those beaten deserved it, suggested he would pay for the lawyers of those beating protesters, and otherwise said a number of things encouraging the violence in his own supporters. and to provoke violence against his opponents.
Simply put, violence has worked well for Trump. He provoked it to his benefit in the primaries, and it should come as no surprise that he continues to do so in the present general election cycle. He started the general election by fantasizing about hitting his critics at the Democratic National Convention. You can see it in this passage. It isn’t until the very end that we come to realize he is talking about something other than outright violence, and you come to that only after indulging in a long violent fantasy.
The things that were said about me, I mean, should I go through some of the names? I, You know what I wanted to, I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard, I would have hit them, no-no, I was gonna hit them so, I was all set, and then I got a call from a highly respected governor, ‘how’s it going Donald?’ I said; “well it’s going good, but they are really saying bad things about me. I’m gonna hit them so hard, I was gonna hit one guy in particular, a very little guy, I was gonna hit this guy so hard his head would spin, he wouldn’t know what the Hell happened, and, he came out of nowhere, he came out of nowhere; they made deals with me, ‘would you help me this; would you make this deal and solve the problem.?’ I solved the problem. I do a great job. I was going to hit a number of those speakers so hard their heads would spin. They’d never recover. And that’s what I did with a a lot of, that’s why I still don’t have certain people endorsing me. They still haven’t recovered.
It could be an accident of course. And elves could bake chocolate cookies under a full moon. This is a conscious effort on Trump’s part. Just as above, this is a message calculated to stimulate violence. It is ambiguous enough to evade responsibility for that violence, but it’s evocative enough to encourage it just the same.
And so here we are, at a new low point in American politics, at least in my own memory, a Presidential candidate stirring up violence in the service of his own campaign. It says a lot about Trump’s character that he is willing to do this to get the position. It says a lot about how he plans to run the country, and what it says about those plans is damned frightening. We can add his penchant for promoting violence to Trump’s sustained and very deliberate courtship of white nationalists throughout his campaign. This man has already done irreparable harm to the nation, and it’s hard to imagine what good things he could possibly do as President to overcome the harm he is clearly willing to do in the service of becoming President. More likely, he will just go on hurting people and encouraging his supporters to do the same.
Today’s message is distinctive insofar as it’s a clear and definitive marriage of two trends within the current GOP. On the one hand, we have Trump’s general efforts to wind up the nation to state of hysteria, to create the sense that America rests on the brink of social breakdown. On the other we have the long-standing right-wing message of violent opposition to government authority, one rooted in a myopic devotion to a single civil right. It’s marriage made in Hell, or at least a cheesy overpriced hotel equivalent thereof. Donald Trump is a huckster. That much should be clear to pretty much anyone this side of a mental ward. But he’s a huckster with a heart full of bile.
Last week a man named Trebor Gordon, Pastor for the Harris County GOP, tried to block a Muslim, Syed Ali, from serving as a precinct chair for the Republican Party in Harris County, Texas. As reported in Gawker, Gordon objected on the grounds that Islam is not consistent with the principles of Republican Party politics.
A video of Gordon’s efforts can also be found on Youtube. Gordon’s argument, as quoted in Gawker is as follows:
If you believe that a person can practice Islam and agree to the foundational principles of the Republican Party, it’s not right. It’s not true. It can’t happen. There are things on our platform that he and his beliefs are total opposite.
“There are things on our platform,” Gordon went on to say, that he (Syed Ali) is, he and his beliefs are in total opposite.”
You may suspect this is the beginning of a GOP-bashing rant. Well, not today. I actually found the response to Gordon’s efforts rather encouraging (especially that of Dave Smith). Granted, I would love to live in a world where people just don’t act like he does, but in the real world, I take it as a good sign that the Gordon was voted down, by other members of the local GOP mind you. It’s a welcome reminder that there are sane and responsible people in the GOP. On this count, at least, I think they done right.
What fascinates me about this incident is something about the particular argument Gordon used. Well, actually two things. First, I’m always fascinated by the use of architectural metaphors in ideological matters, particularly in the rhetoric of conservative Christians. They will often tell us that atheists lack a moral foundation for our behavior. They will also speak quite often of Christianity (or belief in God in general) as providing the foundations (or alternatively, the ‘foundational principles’) of our country. There are of course endless permutations to this theme, and they are all highly problematic.
On one level I get it. These metaphors do communicate a sense that the ‘foundational’ beliefs or values in question are in some sense more important than others, or that the other beliefs and practices are in some sense dependent on the foundational ones. If you like the First Amendment, this argument seems to suggest, that part of our government comes (in some way) from Christianity. I get that much at least, so the trope isn’t entirely opaque, but I do think it’s rather telling that so much of this rhetoric takes place within the scope of this particular metaphor. I also think it’s quite telling that people making such arguments are often ill-prepared to flesh out the metaphor in literal terms. The same person who is quite sure that Christian values and beliefs are the foundation of our republic is often at great pains to explain what those values are and just how they actually generate the rest of the features of the republic at large. Take a way the architectural metaphor, and an awful lot of these folks struggle mightily to flesh out the details of their argument.
…or even to deal with them in any way whatsoever!
Now Gordon isn’t talking about America as a whole in that speech. The foundation he references in that speech is something belonging to the Republican party. Still, I do think it worthwhile to note that he has fallen into the pattern of a much broader fashion of speaking about religious and political ideas. To say that he leans a bit heavily on the architectural metaphor is putting it mildly. It is Smith that references the relevant features of the U.S. Constitution (namely the proscription against religious tests). Gordon has only his talk of foundations. THAT is exactly what I am talking about. The rhetoric of foundations consistently helped people to side-steps relevant details rather than to illuminate them.
…which brings me to a second and (to me) much more important aspect of Gordon’s approach to the issue. He has effectively taken the GOP platform to function as a creed of sorts. It isn’t enough to actively support that platform, according to Gordon. One must not, so it seems, hold views in opposition (or even potentially in opposition) to that platform. All of which is a very interesting way to speak of a party platform.
By ‘interesting’, I might mean ‘ridiculous’.
A party platform is itself the outcome of a political process. It has winners and losers even within the party, and many of those who lose out on battles over the construction of that platform can be expected to go on and support the party anyway. That’s how the process works.One doesn’t normally turn around and use that platform as a plank-by-plank litmus test of acceptable beliefs for party members, even party leadership. Creeds are used in precisely that manner to define membership in a religious community. Party platforms are not.
A party platform may represent the goals of a party in its relation to the outside world, but one wouldn’t normally assume that it represents the precise views of each member. To be fair, Gordon isn’t simply suggesting that a Muslim will be in disagreement with one or two items on that menu. He seems to be suggesting that a Muslim must be in disagreement on some very important points. What are those points? Well that takes us back to the whole ‘foundation’ metaphor.
An additional problem here would lie in the abstract nature of the argument. Gordon isn’t asking whether or not this particular Muslim, Syed Ali, is opposed to the key tenets of the party platform. He is arguing that a Muslim must do so. It’s in their nature, so it seems, or perhaps it’s in the nature of their professed beliefs.
It’s a kind of theology by proxy, an all-too-common one at that. Folks often assume they can draw inferences for believers (or even non-believers) on the basis of an assumed premise or two. This type of argument parallels the reductio ad absurdum, but it fails insofar as it ignores the embedded nature of the beliefs in question. A reducto ad absurdum can show us the inconsistency of combining different beliefs, but it can’t tell us much about how any particular individual relates to the people and institutions around him. Gordon isn’t arguing against Islam in general. He is arguing against a specific Muslim, and that makes the specific views and behavior of that specific Muslim directly relevant to the issue at hand. But Gordon doesn’t addres what Ali actually thinks. It is enough to know that he is Muslim. To call this approach dehumanizing is putting it mildly.
…which illustrates another point. People tend to turn mission statements, party platforms, etc. into creeds precisely when they don’t like the people they assume to be unable to vouch for the creed in question. I used to see this when I was a participant at Christian Forums where the members were at times expected to vouch for the Nicene creed and/or the Apostles Creed if they were to be considered Christian. Among other things, being recognized as Christian provided access to large parts of the forum denied to non-believers (who were largely confined to ‘open debate’ sections of the forum). I never had much problem with this as I just say ‘no’ to gods, but I lost track of the number of liberal Christian friends who had to explain countless times how their actions or beliefs could be squared with the creed(s). That conservative Christians did accept the creed, even though their own actions and statements could as easily be taken to suggest otherwise seemed to go without question. In the case of Christian Forums, where a creed was an explicit part of the forum policy, that policy provided endless grounds for personal back-biting and mean-spirited bickering, almost always at the expense of those more socially vulnerable than theologically off-base. Seeing the number of people hurt by that process did a lot to confirm my suspicions about how ugly religion could get. It also helped me to see that the problem had less to do with what people believe than how questions about beliefs are handled with in a larger community.
I wish I could say that secular folk are immune to this kind of behavior, but I can’t. I once joined a secular forum in which I had to press a button vouching for the fact that I didn’t believe in a god. After some hesitation, I pressed the button. After all, I don’t believe in a god, but I always regarded the policy as remarkably petty and quite dogmatic in nature. It was an ironic dogma to be sure, but I reckon when you start deciding who is and who is out of the club on the basis of what they do or don’t believe, you are well into dogmatic territory whatever the content of the beliefs in question. I had similar views when the old Internet Infidels website decided to allow believers to act as moderators. (I was a low-level moderator on that website at the time.) Many objected to the move on the grounds that a believer couldn’t possibly agree with everything in the mission statement for the site. I found myself thinking, “neither do I.” Simply speaking, there were a couple items on the mission statement that I didn’t agree with. I joined because of teh ones I did agree with, and (more importantly) because I wanted to help facilitate the discussions then taking place on that forum. No-one had asked me if I agreed with each item on that mission statement, and no-one had done this for the rest of the staff either. So, the argument that a believer couldn’t serve as a moderator for the site always struck me as an odd misunderstanding of the nature of both forum moderation and mission statements. It also struck me as an ugly double standard. Making these arguments in public debates on the matter didn’t exactly make me popular, but I always found it odd that so many critical thinkers were apparently quite comfortable with the assumption that everyone on staff had to agree with every point in the mission statement.
In life offline, one of my more frustrating experiences with policy-driven dogma came while I worked at Diné College (a tribal college) on the Navajo Nation. Faculty were expected to adopt an educational model known as Diné Educational Philosophy (DEP). It was a fairly elaborate theory, requiring us to divide our lessons up into four steps (generally portrayed as four individual quadrants of a circle), each of which was thereby linked to some aspect of Navajo cosmology. It was easy enough to do this, of course, and some of the Navajo faculty could do this brilliantly (and authentically). The rest of us, were doing it by the numbers of course, and the students knew it. I still recall the day one of my more traditional students shrunk in his seat as I drew a circle on the board and raised the topic. “Please don’t!” was all he said. He was absolutely right to do so. The man had been enthusiastic just moments before, but moments before I had been talking American history. Now I was speaking about Navajo philosophy and that was a subject he didn’t need to hear about from a white guy. It might have been my job to address the issue, but that didn’t make the moment any less ridiculous.
One of the more frustrating things about DEP was that its proponents often described western educational theory as top down and western religion as dogmatic. It seemed to be a forgone conclusion that Navajo thinking wasn’t any of these things. There was certainly some justice to this. After all, it was the white people that brought missionaries to the reservation and at one time instituted educational policies amounting to little more than government enforced kidnapping. There were so many respects in which I could see Navajo approaches to education were more flexible and less dogmatic than mainstream approaches; they just weren’t respects that had much to do with the official policies of the college. An educational policy incorporating explicit ceremonial themes mandated by administration, taught to faculty (who were mostly outsiders) and then imposed on students in the classroom was by definition a top down approach, and when that policy (along with its ceremonial themes) becomes obligatory, it is a dogma. If I was ever prone to think otherwise, I lost any grounds for doubt one day in a meeting as two of the Navajo faculty argued over the specific implications of a corn stock metaphor in DEP. One of them, I thought quite sensibly suggested that there was room for different approaches to the subject. The other insisted that we all must be on the same page when it came to that theory. The rest of us, being white, had little to do but wait to see how the indigenous faculty sorted the matter out.
I don’t mean to suggest that all the classes at Diné College were taught according to a set dogma. I do mean to suggest that this was official policy, yes, but that’s one of the beauties of actual human behavior. Sometimes the practice is way better than the theory behind it. People pursued a wide variety of approaches in the classroom, and (at least when I was there) many of those approaches simply didn’t match the vision enshrined in that narrow policy. My own approach was a bit more Socratic. I adapted my lessons to the classroom by asking my students how things worked in their world; they told me, and I worked their answers into the lessons. My students’ mileage will vary, of course, but I at least found that process to be interesting and rewarding. The official policy of the college didn’t help much.
So anyway, my point is that people often turn a range of bureaucratic communications into an obligatory set of doctrines. Mission statements, party platforms, educational procedures aren’t necessarily things that should call for total agreement from those working with them. They outline goals. People in an organization can generally be expected to work toward the goals in such documents, but the notion that someone must agree with every point in such a document is an odd (if rather frequent) inference. Those taking such an approach often do a great deal of harm in so doing, and I generally make it a point to oppose them whenever and wherever possible.
Bringing the issue back to the relationship between Islam and American politics, I think Gordon’s approach touches on a particularly disturbing example of this sort of behavior. It has become relatively common to hear that Islam is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Ben Carson seems to have used this as an argument against allowing a Muslim to become president. Others have used this as an argument against allowing Muslim refugees into the country (or into western nations in general) and/or against the notion that Muslims are protected under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The thinking here seems to be that aspects of Islamic doctrine are inconsistent with basic principles of American government (including perhaps the establishment clause). Those pushing this argument will often produce texts from the Quran or related documents suggesting obligations contrary to American law and/or the Constitution itself. But of course that misses the point. The Constitution protects the right to believe any number of things, including those contrary to the constitution itself. It even protects a range of practices, at least those consistent with the constitution itself and the social arrangements made under its authority. That there are limits to these protections is clear enough, but those limits simply do NOT become an excuse to deny people protections altogether.
And of course once again, this approach amounts to a kind of fundamentalism by proxy. I have no count that there are Muslims who want to do things contrary to the law and the constitution. I also have no doubt there are Muslims who respect the law at least as much as the rest of us. How do you tell the difference? I reckon the answer to that question depend on what they say and do, not what a critic can spin off a cherry-picked line or two from the Quran for purpose of fielding an argument. In any event, the possibility that someone may believe (or want) something contrary to the Constitution simply isn’t an excuse for excluding them once and for all from the entire body of constitutional protections.
(Were it otherwise, Gordon might be in trouble!)
The notion that people must demonstrate consistency between their beliefs and the provisions of the U.S. Constitution is (once again) how people treat a creed, not a plan of government. The Constitution too, it would seem, is among the many things people tend to treat as a Creed even though they shouldn’t.