Don’t Say His Name

 

USA-ELECTION/TRUMP

As you may have noticed, I long ago stopped saying the name of the forty-fifth White House occupant. In fact, I’ve even made a point of avoiding the use of his image wherever possible. And there will be popsicles in hell before I ever call him “President”. You may have assumed that this is personal, that it reflects a mere gut reaction to the man’s loathsomeness. Or that it’s some kind of superstitious hokum like the aversion to saying Voldemort in the Harry Potter books. Quite the opposite — it’s a logical, thought-out strategic decision.

I started thinking about this when I read a post by George Lakoff on his blog.  Lakoff, as you may know, is a former professor of linguistics at Berkeley and an expert on framing. The title of his book Don’t Think of an Elephant is a good indication of the frustrating challenges he tackles and the seemingly near-impossible strategy he advocates. How can you not think of an elephant? Just by not thinking about an elephant, you’re thinking about what you’re not going to think about –namely a pachyderm.

Along the same lines, he recommends not repeating the lies of the W.H.O., because even if your aim is to debunk them, you’re helping them spread just by mentioning them. And yet if you don’t debunk them you’re allowing them to spread unchecked, which in effect is helping them spread. It sounds like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

There are a couple of solutions, or at least partial solutions, to this quandary. The first is to mention the gist of the lie as succinctly and fleetingly as possible, without repeating the actual words. The second is to serve up “truth sandwiches”. Which is to say, you first state the factual alternative to the lie, then mention the substance of the lie, then reiterate the truth. That way, not only are you stating the truth twice as often as the untruth, you are also placing iterations of the truth in the most strategic positions — people tend to remember what they hear first and what they hear last better than what they hear in between.

Given the problem with repeating That Guy’s lies, it seems plausible that just repeating his name also could be problematic. That to say his name is to spread his fame. Remember, we’re dealing with a megalomaniac despot who cares about one thing only: promoting himself and his brand. Doesn’t it stand to reason that repeating his name might help him in that pursuit? And flashing around his smug mug might do likewise?

At this point I don’t have any solid research to indicate that verbally or visually boycotting him will make a significant difference if any. But if there’s a reasonable chance that it will make any difference at all, then it’s certainly worth making a bit of effort to come up with alternative ways of referring to him and the filth he spews. So I urge you: don’t say his name. And for that matter, the less you can even dwell on the elephant, the less permission you give it to trample you.

 

Joining the Twitter Age

Today, I stuck one more toe into the waters of the digital age by opening, finally, a Twitter account. I’m not certain yet just how often I’ll be using it — at the moment I’m just trying it out. But whatever I come up with, you can check it out at @profofprop.

The Golden Age Of Gaslighting

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The year 2019 in its very early stages already has produced two remarkable incidents of gaslighting. Deriving its name from the title of a successful stage play and film, gaslighting refers to the practice of deliberately manipulating people to alter their perceptions of their perceptions — in the play and film, the victim even came to question her own sanity, as was the manipulator’s intent. Normally, we think of gaslighting as something that requires a certain amount of time to execute. But in these two cases, particularly the more recent, the successful coups were carried out virtually overnight. These incidents illustrate very nicely that we currently are living in the Golden Age Of Gaslighting.

If you have any doubts of that, just look at who is presently occupying the White House. He is a lifelong wastrel, liar and conman who has convinced millions of people that he is a brilliant businessman, a strong and competent leader, a paragon of virtue and even a Good Christian. He’s convinced millions that Sean Hannity is a solid journalist and CNN is “fake news”. And he’s convinced millions that all the evidence the FBI has dug up about him and his associates is proof that the FBI is corrupt, not him. Not surprisingly, the two incidents in question both pertain to him — one directly and one indirectly.

First, there’s the matter of the government shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history. It was carried out by a putative president throwing a snit because Congress wouldn’t approve funding for his ultimate monument to himself. Just before it happened, he proclaimed that he would be “proud” to shut down the government; that he would accept sole responsibility and wouldn’t blame anyone else. Then, as soon as it did happen, he started blaming everyone else, calling it the “Schumer-Pelosi” shutdown, calling Democrats obstructionists who didn’t care about border security, etc. etc. And his chorus of enablers picked up the chant. I’m happy to report, however, that this time — if the polls are correct — most of the public did not buy it. But a sizable portion did. And many in the media did, relentlessly pushing the customary narrative of “both sides” being to blame. And when he finally caved in (probably the first time in his life he’s had anyone stand up to him without getting fired), many in the media, honest to Pete, credited his “leadership”.

The second exercise in gaslighting was rather more successful. It concerned a highly publicized encounter in Washington, DC. between a small group of Native Americans, a small group of African-Americans, and a very large group of white school kids wearing MAGA hats.

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The undeniable facts that everyone agrees on are these:

1. The kids were there to participate in a “March For Life”.

2. They were verbally harassed by a very small group from a radical faction known as the Black Hebrew Israelites,

3. A small group of Native Americans, participating in an event called Indigenous Peoples March, interposed itself between the two groups.

4. One of the Native Americans in particular, an elder named Nathan Phillips, beat his drum and chanted in the midst of the fracas in an effort to restore peace.

But beyond that, there’s been a great deal of dispute — and much of it unwarranted. The initial reports that deluged social media included only a brief clip, the heart of the incident, and suggested that the kids had invaded the space of the Native Americans and behaved aggressively toward them. That wasn’t exactly the case, but they clearly were being disrespectful, even mocking. Indeed, school officials apologized and promised disciplinary action, “up to and including expulsion”. Even the website of the “March For Life” condemned their behavior.

Within about 24 hours, however, the narrative had totally flipped on its head. Now, all of a sudden, the kids were innocent angels who had been targeted by a malicious cyber mob of leftists and dishonest media. And the particular lad at the center of the storm — one Nick Sandmann — was now being pitied as a victim of persecution. What happened?

For one thing, additional video footage was put into circulation that showed a more extensive, more nuanced series of events than the clip initially released. This footage indicated that first reactions had been somewhat overblown. From there, the manipulators started to build the narrative that first reactions were totally uncalled for — and even that Phillips had been an aggressor who was trying to stir up trouble. The additional footage, they claimed, provided “context” that totally exonerated the Catholic school youths. The spin was that the media (and social media) totally bungled their coverage of the incident.

Not so. The media certainly sensationalized and skewed, as media are known to do; but they still got their facts straight — at least their essential facts . (It was reported at first that Phillips is a Vietnam veteran; he did serve in the Marine Corps, but not in Vietnam. This has no bearing on what happened at the Lincoln Memorial.) And the additional footage still shows that, even though Phillips approached the group of students rather than vice versa, Sandmann clearly stepped up right in his face and smirked at him without budging, as if challenging him to something or other.  Videos also show that the white schoolboys were making fun of Phillips, mocking his chanted prayer, and even making disrespectful “tomahawk” gestures, among other things. Even the Black Hebrew Israelites, despite their abrasive comments, conduct themselves aristocratically in comparison.

It’s very interesting that in their desperate search for the “context” provided by additional footage, the reactionaries quite overlook the footage provided by Native Americans who were present. And if you really want context, why not dig a little deeper. Phillips testified, fighting back tears, that he was in fact frightened by the teens.

I was scared, I don’t like the word ‘hate.’ I don’t like even saying it, but it was hate unbridled. It was like a storm.

He also said that he heard some of them chanting “Build the wall!”.  So far, no recording has confirmed this; but what a recording has confirmed is that one of the students yelled at a group of girls that “it’s not rape if you enjoy it”, and the others hooted and hollered their approval. This is more significant than it may sound, because the culture of the MAGA cult is closely intertwined with the rape culture, the white pride culture and the culture of male superiority — it’s not mere coincidence that the defenders of the Covington kids are almost invariably defenders of Brett Kavanaugh. By any means necessary. (The evidence indicates that the White House occupant was elected by a core of white male Christians who were in a panic because they feared their stranglehold on American society was in jeopardy.)

It’s also known that the students were there participating in a “March For Life”, which is really about depriving women of autonomy. And they’ve been known to wear blackface at sporting events. (Their defenders have insisted this is no big deal because they paint their whole bodies black, and it’s part of a “school spirit” thingamajig sanctioned by the school. Oh.) And they’ve been known to wear MAGA hats in an apparent attempt to provoke people. In fact, the hat itself is almost all the context you need.

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Meanwhile, Sandmann’s wealthy family tried to dispose of the matter by (fanfare, please) hiring publicists to churn out some spin.  (Just to give you an idea of the character of these publicists, they have a history of working for Mitch McConnell and the Bush family.)  Shortly thereafter, they released a statement that put words in Sandmann’s mouth, protesting that he was not only an innocent widdle victim of character assassination, but a noble heroic figure who bravely strode into the fray and tried to diffuse tension (by getting in Phillips’ face). The statement was worded in an articulate and thoughtful manner, and we’re supposed to believe that it was written by a pampered teenager who thinks MAGA hats are really cool.

Needless to say, the putative president jumped into the fray, seizing any and every opportunity to pursue his unabashedly fascist dream of de-legitimizing journalism, history and science and establishing himself as the sole source of Truth. He figured that since the kids were wearing the official headgear of his cult, it was his duty to defend them no matter what they’d done. (Not unlike the murderous “very fine” Nazis in Charlottesville.)  Accordingly, he tweeted, “Nick Sandmann and the students of Covington have become symbols of Fake News and how evil it can be.” And his official hired liar, Sarah Sanders, lamented that “I’ve never seen people so happy to destroy a kid’s life.” Really, Sarah?

Immigrant

And just like that, Sandmann was transformed from media goat to media darling. He was even interviewed on NBC’s Today Show, on which he robotically mouthed the words he’d been primed with, insisting he had nothing to apologize for and “every right to stand there” — reaffirming the perception of him as confrontational, and reflecting, as Salon points out, the reality that whites operate under different rules of engagement than everyone else. If you have the stomach to watch the interview, notice how his rather loose-fitting clothes seem designed to give him a waif-like appearance.

In the aftermath, many people who had been quick to criticize him engaged in a sickening chorus of mea culpas, apologizing because they supposedly had him pegged all wrong. Even many in the mainstream media imagined egg on their faces for doing their jobs, and thereby failing to reinforce the official right-wing narrative.

And the right-wing fringe media, needless to say, was all over it. The same folks who went apeshit over an old clip of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (gasp) DANCING in college just shrugged and said “boys will be boys” over the much more recent clip of the Covington brats. The unfortunate National Review, which is unwavering in its mission of trying to make itself look as asinine as possible, initially published a piece condemning the students in harsh terms, but then retracted it and jumped into the spin cyclone. It tried to deflect attention away from Sandmann and his pals by picking apart the “lies, inconsistencies and nonsense” of Nathan Phillips. (These folks are real sticklers for truthiness, at least in other people.)

NR’s unfortunate columnist Kyle Smith, whom we’ve encountered before, likened the public outcry to something out of 1984 and went on a silly rant about how we have no right to chastise the youngsters for inappropriate behavior when they didn’t actually commit any crime fer gawd’s sake. Indeed, he facetiously salted his screed with the word crime numerous times in an attempt to downplay by contrast the Covington crudeness.

NR’s unfortunate columnist David French dutifully made the Sandmann-Kavanaugh connection in a piece called “Just How Easy Should It Be To Destroy a Young Man’s Life?”. Good thing it wasn’t young person’s life — someone might construe that to include female targets of sexual assault.

In the Kavanaugh case, conservative men and women looked at decades-old, uncorroborated allegations, the unquestioning acceptance of those claims, and the furious effort to destroy a man’s reputation and career – even by passing along the wildest and most implausible claims – and thought, “That could be me’ or ‘that could be my husband.’

Now, these same people look at the reaction to the Covington Catholic kids and think, “That could be my son.”…

That’s the message that sent a shudder up the spine of husbands and wives during the Kavanaugh hearings. That’s the message that sends a shudder up the spine of moms and dads as we watch men and women try to ruin the Covington Catholic kids. This isn’t just a media scandal. When we see the hate, some of us see our sons, and we know that in America today, their futures, their reputations, and – given the prevalence of death threats – perhaps even their very lives are in the hands of an angry mob.

If that doesn’t make you puke, you’re impervious to nausea.

In writing what is perhaps the most thorough and even-handed examination of the episode, Zack Beauchamp at Vox observes:

The answer is that the Covington videos are [a] kind of Rorschach test, showing each side seeing what it wants to in a way that’s more revealing about their own worldviews than the actual incident.

Okay, but that in itself is disturbingly revealing. This particular Rorschach blot bears the distinct image of a bunch of adolescents being asses. The fact that so many people are tying themselves into knots in an effort not only to exculpate but beatify this behavior — to, in effect normalize “white privilege” — is a sad comment on the age of alternative facts and the reality TV presidency.

In the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup, Chico famously asks, “Who ya gonna believe — me or your own eyes?” We live in a time when the manipulators have become very skilled at persuading people to believe the “me”. The gaslights have never burned more brightly.

 

Yet Another Visit to Prager Universe

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As we have seen in the two previous discussions of the topic, PragerU is a festering cauldron of misinformation, misdirection and smugness — disguised as a benevolent, informative “university”. Its coterie of “credible thinkers” (also known as “course presenters”) pontificating in 5-minute videos reads like a partial Who’s Who of contemporary lunatic demagoguery. The roster includes Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder (see below), Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, Dinesh D’Souza, Jonah Goldberg, Charlie Kirk, Michelle Malkin, James O’Keefe,  and Candace Owens, among many others.

PragerU very well might be thought of as the anti-TED. Whereas TED Talks is a symposium on the human potential for creativity, progress, expansive mindset, vision, constructiveness and love, PragerU is a symposium on the human potential for destructiveness, regression, reductionist mindset, purblindness, division and hate. And the Pragerists don’t even have the decency to be forthright in their aims; their mission is cloaked in pseudointellectual pretensions of patriotism, piety and moral high-mindedness.

Tune in and you’ll find videos rehashing the same inane talking points you’ve heard (and heard debunked) many times before — in support of a border wall, and the electoral college, and theocracy, and capital punishment, and other tireless bastions of right-wing bigotry and intellectual bankruptcy. A video on nationalism tries to make it sound benign by drastically shifting the semantic goal posts.  One video on the electoral college observes that:

In a pure democracy, bare majorities can easily tyrannize the rest of a country.

Never mind that merely electing a president by popular vote by no means would constitute a “pure majority”. The thing is that the present arrangement (as has become painfully evident) can help a distinct minority tyrannize the rest of the country.

All of this is blended with a (very) small amount of material that really is informative or at least harmless. We previously mentioned a video affirming that the Civil War really was about slavery (which is something there really shouldn’t even be any debate about). Another one purports to teach you (in 5 minutes) how to develop more resiliency to avoid being thrown for a loop by catastrophic events. It’s essentially fluff, but evidently well-meaning enough.

The many talks that Dennis Prager himself has delivered include a regular series of fireside chats (no, seriously) in which he expounds upon all manner of topics on which he considers himself the ultimate authority.  Looking like Santa Claus groomed for a job on Wall Street, he follows in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps in demonstrating that an avuncular persona can mask all manner of devious machinations.  And PragerU itself often demonstrates the banality of evil; while posing as a cheery self-help site, it subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) goads its viewers to loathe half of their fellow Americans.

One of these “courses” is a whole series of cutesy little “man on the street” videos by Will Witt, who is officially PragerU’s “social media influencer” (a title that speaks megabytes). You know the type of video: the intrepid sleuth sets out with a certain premise, interviews people he hopes will confirm that premise, selects the few who do and discards the others, sprinkles it all with a bit of selective editing, and voila! proves himself to be a great sage and visionary.

Witt’s customary narrative is that them librulz iz dumm; he’s particularly obsessed with trying to establish that college students are naive librulz being force-fed propaganda by sinister librul professors. He himself claims he dropped out of one such university because he was being indoctrinated with facts that didn’t fit his worldview. (Does the word snowflake mean anything to you, Will?) So now, by god, he works for a real university where he can learn, teach and manufacture his own facts.

In one video, he asks students whether they can name one good thing the forty-fifth White House Occupant has done in office, and they have a hard time coming up with one. Imagine that. (Give them a break, Will — this was before he helped the Democrats regain the House.) In another, he ridicules a “leftist” book that “brainwashes” little kids by telling them about the concept of… wait for it… activism. You know, such as he himself attempts to practice. Another of his videos is titled “Do College Students Support Abortion Or Life?” Yes, that’s the actual title. (If you don’t see anything wrong, please read our two discussions of abortion and the one on straw men.)

History, shmistory

But of all the PragerU videos I have watched so far, surely the most egregious is one that was posted for the occasion of Columbus Day. It was designed to ridicule the “politically correct” efforts to question the wisdom of celebrating such an occasion, and to defend the myth of Columbus as a noble, heroic figure. This talk was delivered by Steven Crowder, who has a website called Louder With Crowder — a name perfectly exemplifying the notion these people have that being louder and more obnoxious makes you more accurate and morally defensible. He’s labeled Christine Blasey Ford a “lying whore” — while acknowledging that her accusations could be true — and suggested that by denouncing her attacker, she was guilty of name calling that was equally vile. Credible thinkers, every one.

Here’s how he begins his little homily on the austere occasion of Columbus Day:

Thanksgiving. Independence Day. Memorial Day. Holidays are a great time to riddle Americans with needless, oppressive guilt.

Not a hint as to exactly how those holidays inflict “needless, oppressive guilt” on people.  It’s one of those things you’re supposed to just believe because you’re supposed to just believe.  And clearly a tribute to the popular straw man of “liberal guilt” we discussed previously. And here’s what he’s leading up to:

But the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is Columbus Day—the day where progressives indoctrinate your children into believing Columbus to be Satan incarnate, the USA to be his evil spawn, and the Native Americans to be pacifists.

Wow. There’s almost too much horseshit packed into that one sentence to adequately dissect it all. But let’s whip through it briefly. First, notice the cute red herring/ straw man tacked onto the end. Who exactly is claiming that Native Americans were uniformly pacifist? And what exactly would that have to do with respecting Native heritage and culture and the Native peoples alive today? It’s very telling that Crowder and his like consider it “indoctrination” when progressives try to set the record straight. But for the record, progressives generally just want the truth to be known, whether about Columbus or anyone else. If someone concludes that he was “Satan incarnate”, that’s a conclusion they would be drawing from his actual record — and there is plenty in his record that might warrant such a characterization.

The most interesting thing about this sentence, however, is its bald illustration of the propaganda technique of flag waving, wherein the perpetrator presents himself as impeccably patriotic because of his ideology, and proclaims that anyone who does not concur with his beliefs is unpatriotic or even anti-American. In this silly extreme example, he is claiming that anyone who dares to expose the seamy side of Columbus is trying to paint America itself as the “spawn of Satan”. Indeed, he’s declaring that it’s even worse than that:

Feeling the urge to self-inflict grievous bodily harm yet? That’s only natural, because the whole charade has become an exercise in hating Western civilization, which is really just an exercise in hating yourself.

Got that? If you want the facts told, you hate not only America, not only all of Western civilization, but even yourself. Instead, you should deal yourself a huge dose of love by believing this:

First, as far as Columbus goes, the guy deserves some credit, right? Flawed, to be sure, but he was the greatest navigator of his age—the first person to cross the Atlantic from the continent of Europe. And he did so without any maps and only three small ships. If you can name them, by the way, comment below, as I’m sure your professor can’t.

Clever, huh? Simultaneously taking a dig at those sinister liberal professors teaching liberal facts to impressionable students, while also putting in a blatant plug to drum up viewer interaction by challenging them to respond to a simplistic trivia question. Don’t worry, Steve — if you and the other Pragerists can’t name the three ships, just about any fifth grader can bail you out.

But there are indeed some “liberal” facts that he can’t spin away.  To call Columbus the “greatest navigator of his age” is, to put it charitably, a wee bit of a stretch. Among other things, Columbus grossly miscalculated the dimensions of the globe. It would be more accurate to say that he was a ruthless, greedy egomaniac and a lucky bungler who stumbled his way into the history books (not unlike the forty-fifth White House occupant). We’ll discuss the myths about Columbus (who, by the way, never even set foot on the continent) in a future post; for now, let’s just remind the venerable Mr. Crowder that there’s actually a reason the Native peoples of America are now known as “Indians”.

He goes on to apply a very interesting and illuminating double standard. He acknowledges on the one hand that Columbus and crew were far from perfect, and suggests that we therefore should be willing to excuse them for knocking off a few indigenous people. And on the other hand, he insists that the Natives were not perfect either, and therefore, we should be willing to overlook the fact that many of them got knocked off by European immigrants. It’s a technique related to what is known formally as tu quoque, though it’s more commonly known as”bothsidesism” or  “whataboutism” or “it takes one to know one”, or “I’m rubber, you’re glue”, or “so’s your old man”. However you phrase it, the idea is that you can somehow exonerate someone from charges of wrongdoing by pointing out that someone else did something wrong too.

Nobody is suggesting that the Natives were perfect or that they were all benevolent, peaceful souls. They were human, and any large enough group of humans is going to have a few rotten eggs. So yes, some of them did commit their own atrocities. And guess what? Not a single one of them is even remembered today, much less exalted as a hero or honored by a major holiday.

As far as the genocide by violence, you can look at any historical account of even the most one-sided battles and find that they were still just that—battles. Take Wounded Knee (although hundreds of years later, I only bring it up because I know that if I don’t, you will). It’s become ubiquitous with the idea of Native Americans’ genocide. After all, there were 150-350 Aboriginals killed or wounded. That’s terrible, but there were also 25 American soldiers killed and 39 wounded. That’s not genocide; that’s a one-sided beatdown with Old Glory wielding the hammer.

Aside from the fact that his math is a little questionable (somehow he regards 128 years as “hundreds of years”), he illustrates how you can argue just about any kind of absurd premise if you’re willing to redefine your terms and cherry pick your facts drastically enough. If you’re going to transform a massacre into a “one-sided battle”, it helps if you forget to mention that the altercation began as an official visit; and that the army was trying to confiscate the tribe’s weapons, to go along with the confiscated lands; and that many of the 300 or so Native casualties were women and children.

And he offers an even more absurd deflection:

Not only did the Natives brutally take out PEOPLE, but they took out entire forests and hunted species to extinction.

So the Fifteenth Century Natives deserved to be slaughtered because they didn’t apply Twenty-First Century knowledge of proper environmental management? One must infer that what he’s implying here is that anyone who exercises a “politically correct” effort to respect Native Americans and their heritage is subscribing to the silly stereotype of the “noble savage”, which enjoyed a brief vogue a couple of centuries ago.  And just in case he hasn’t already convinced you how bigoted and clueless he is, he sums up thus:

Columbus is not the issue here, and never was. This whole “Indigenous Peoples Day” charade is about teaching your children to despise Western civilization and anybody who dare defend it.

And then he wraps up with an uncharacteristic touch of candor, intended to be ironic but actually much more accurate than he realizes.

But then again, that could just be my Western civ privilege talking.

No shit, Sherlock.

Reactionaries like Crowder often try to give you the impression that Columbus Day is a timeless, quintessentially American occasion ordained by the Founding Fathers themselves. In reality, it did not become a federal holiday until 1937, and the motivations for making it one were largely political, and based almost entirely on myth. This sums up very nicely what these people classify as “patriotism”.

Summing it up

Within three months of its being posted, this bigoted and brainless little video had been viewed in excess of three million times. It’s been shared, praised, tweeted and et cetera-ed countless times. PragerU videos overall have received more than 1.8 BILLION views.  What’s even more disturbing is that if the site’s stats are to be believed (and it’s clearly by no means a given that anything PragerU says can be taken at face value) 70 percent of viewers report that they’ve had their minds changed on some issue by one of the videos. In short, it’s an extremely successful propaganda machine.

And that includes, of course, being financially successful. It’s been reported that each video (there’s a new one spawned every week) costs in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 to produce. They wouldn’t be spending that kind of cheddar if they weren’t raking it in.  (Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen of nonprofit status — churches are nonprofits too, and some of them are filthy rich.) Indeed, PragerU’s faithful flock is constantly subjected to dire fundraising pleas, built on the absurd claim that “conservative” material is being censored and repressed by social media, search engines, mainstream media, and the chronosynclastic infundibulum. To emphasize the point, one of its panhandling ads features photos of some of those “credible thinkers” with their mouths taped. If only.

Such absurd claims have been debunked eight ways from Sunday — even though a great deal of right-wing Internet content inspires violence and other harmful actions, right-wingers actually have an advantage in the cyber world. (The reason you’re reading about PragerU right now is that it kept rearing its ugly head in my Facebook feed, quite uninvited, over and over and over.) But they want more than an advantage. They want absolute and total domination. And anything less than that will prompt them to wail about censorship and repression — and even conduct congressional hearings to look into such poppycock. And they will continue to play the censorship card as long as there are plenty of Kool-Aid guzzlers to fleece out of cash.

It’s often said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. To this aphorism we should add the corollary that nobody ever went broke overestimating the gullibility of ideological fanatics.

White Guilt, White Pride and White Privilege

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White guilt, white pride and white privilege are all terms that get thrown about quite a bit these days. What do they really mean? How do they all fit together? To answer that, we must look at the behavior and mindset of those who enjoy (if that is the correct word) white privilege.

What defines “white privilege”, anyway? In the past, it was an easier phenomenon to identify.  White privilege meant being able to vote. It meant being able to live in the neighborhood you wanted to live in, go to the school you wanted to attend, work at the career you wanted to work at. It meant being able to drink from the same water fountain and use the same toilet as everyone else. It meant not having to worry so much about being lynched.

Today, these blunt injustices have been (mostly) eliminated. But that doesn’t mean white privilege is extinct too.  It’s just a bit more subtle — at least usually.  Today, white privilege means not being stopped by police as often. It means not being reported as suspicious if you enter a white neighborhood.  It means having one person describe you to another person without referring to your ethnicity.  It means maybe a car dealership will offer you a lower price than they would offer an African-American. (Yes, this has been known to happen.) It means being able to speak your mind — even in an uninhibited fashion — without being perceived as violent, angry or thuggish. It’s absolutely unthinkable that a black president could ever get away with the kind of toddler tantrums the 45th White House occupant does.  Or that a black Supreme Court nominee would get away with the kind of unhinged self-indulgent hissy fit that Brett Kavanaugh threw. Or that a black senator would be able to play the childishly petulant game of threats that Lindsey Graham did because Democrats were trying to vet a Republican nominee. (It’s also unthinkable that a female of any race could get away with these behaviors — male privilege is closely allied with white privilege.) White privilege means being able to bask in “white pride” while rejecting “white guilt” (both of which are actually misnomers, as we’ll see shortly).

Those born into white privilege are often quick to ridicule what they refer to as “white guilt”. Conservative pundit George Will, in a typical right-wing combination of smugness and cluelessness, said:

[White guilt is] a form of self-congratulation, where whites initiate “compassionate policies” toward people of color, to showcase their innocence to racism.

The trouble is, “guilt” is being misused in this context, summoned forth because there isn’t a single word that adequately expresses the concept. It really isn’t about guilt as such, but about moral indignation and civic responsibility. It’s certainly true that we cannot be expected to bear the burden of culpability for actions committed by our forebears several generations ago. The very suggestion is preposterous. But that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to clean up the messes they left — particularly while we’re living on land forcibly taken from Native Americans and enjoying the benefits of a society built on the backs of African slaves.  British journalist Sunny Hundal had an excellent response to people like Will:

Not much annoys me more than the stereotype that to be liberal is to be full of guilt. To be socially liberal, in my view, is to be more mindful of compassion and empathy for others … to label that simply as guilt is just… insulting.

But while liberals are not really advocating guilt per se, it’s fascinating and illuminating to see how reactionaries react to any such implication.  They often will say that they “refuse to apologize for being white” — as if anyone asked them to. When Chelsea Clinton was the nation’s First Child, her school teacher offered as a possible essay topic the question “Should white people feel guilty?” It apparently was one of those devil’s advocate type of topics meant to provoke debate and reflection — to encourage independent thinking, in short. I once had a teacher assign a discussion group the task of explaining, on short notice, the benefits and positive things about slavery; and I seriously doubt if anyone assumed he was promoting that institution. But if a professor instead assigned students the task of defending reparations for slavery and word got out, you can bet the right-wing media would go on a rampage.

Indeed, the right-wing media went bonkers — well, more bonkers than they were already — declaring Chelsea’s teacher’s assignment to be yet another instance of supposed “liberal indoctrination” at schools. And they emphasized their point by embellishing the tale in the retelling, even altering the proposed title to “Why White People Should Feel Guilty”. It was pretty clear that what was raising their hackles was not just the suggestion that white people might feel guilty, but the suggestion that white people had ever done anything wrong.

And there are a couple of glaring ironies here. First, those partakers in white privilege who so loudly protest that they want no truck with “white guilt” are quite often Christians. And one of the core principles of Christianity –if not THE core principle — is the tenet of original sin, which holds that we bear the burden of guilt for misdeeds not just through a few generations, but through all generations. According to this dogma, which a great many Christians adhere to in one way or another, we are all guilty just by being born human; and yet many folks who believe that also vociferously reject the notion that we might be “guilty” by being born white humans.

Second, these individuals generally also are embodiments, even if subtly and indirectly, of white pride. Some even openly declare this, and put white pride in the same league with “black pride” and “gay pride”. But there is of course a huge difference. The latter two categories are celebrating how demographic groups have persevered in the face of discrimination, persecution and oppression; the “white pride” folks are celebrating a demographic group that has been on the dishing-out end of discrimination, persecution and oppression.

Even many people who don’t march around displaying swastikas and Confederate flags, are often jingoists; they display their American flags (sometimes alongside their Confederate flags) and make an issue of standing for the National Anthem — and watch carefully for anyone who doesn’t do likewise so they can heap on the condemnation. They vigorously apply the technique of flag waving — which is to say they equate their own ideology with “patriotism”, and the ideology of anyone else with anti-Americanism.  Anyone who dares to criticize the government, they declare, is a traitor — if and only if the government is controlled by Republicans. But they are, of course, hasty to do a total about face the instant a Democrat and/or a black person is elected president. They shout “America first”, and try to come up with spurious justifications for keeping out (non-white) immigrants.

Jingoists loudly proclaim that they are “proud to be American”. But what does that really mean? Generally, pride is a word properly applied to a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction at one’s accomplishments and attributes. But being American is neither an accomplishment nor, really, an attribute. It’s merely the result of being fortunate enough to have been born in the United States.

One certainly can feel grateful or happy to be an American. But proud? That implies that you were somehow involved in the Constitutional Convention or the Battle of Concord. In other words, if you are “proud” to be American, but refuse to feel “guilty” for being white, you are implicitly taking credit for the good things done by your ancestors, while explicitly disavowing any blame for the bad things they did. “American pride” is very closely allied with “white pride”; the word nationalism is almost inextricably linked with the word whiteAnd in both cases, “pride” more properly should be called arrogance.

This tendency to embrace “white pride” while rejecting “white guilt” — and being able to get away with it — is white privilege in a nutshell. Today, white people whose most significant achievement is being born in America are in a position to determine the fate of hard-working immigrants who take great risks in an effort to become Americans themselves. They also are in a position to restrict the voting rights of ethnic minorities — including NATIVE AMERICANS. It doesn’t get much more white,  or more privileged, than that.

 

Ben Shapiro Vs. Facts

Ben Shapiro

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Ben Shapiro is a loudmouthed, obnoxious young aspirant to the hotly contested title of kingpin among right-wing demagogues. Like others in the thickly crowded and highly competitive field, his actions indicate that he is most concerned about boosting his ego and raking in the bucks. And he knows that a quick way to do that is to smear liberals/progressives/the left/whatever, because he’ll find a ready mob of bigots to applaud him.

He’s quickly built a loyal following of people who mistake swift-tongued glibness for accuracy and substance. And even the New York Times, which he has christened “the official outlet of the American left” (despite its stable of right-leaning columnists), published a bizarre fawning paean to him (unlike others in his tribe, he “reads books”!), dubbing him the “Cool Kid’s Philosopher”. If you actually pay attention to what he says, however, you quickly see that the philosopher has no toga.

For one thing, he doesn’t feel the need to be bothered with a piddling little thing like consistency. On the one hand, he avows concern over the big bad guvmint’s unwarranted intrusion into citizens’ private lives — he’s railed indignantly against “gun control” and even against government bans of phone use while driving; yet he also declares that pornography should be outlawed because… well, just because; and that it can’t be defended by the “silly” argument that something should not be criminalized if it does no harm.

He also doesn’t feel the need to draw distinctions between the grossly dissimilar things he lumps together. Continuing his peculiar and frankly rather disturbingly obsessive denunciation of pornography, he notes that if we’re going to legalize it, we might as well legalize murder. In other words, he’s a master of false equivalence.

And he doesn’t feel the need to offer any rational justification for his dogmatic pronouncements. Atheism, he proclaims, is not only “morally bankrupt” but totally incompatible with the concept of free will. (He also conflates belief in God with belief in the soul.) Free will, he says, comes from God — our will is free only if it’s under the total control of an outside force. Why? Because religious people believe so, and that’s good enough for him. It is because it just is.

The latter type of circular reasoning is a fallacy known in Philosophy 101 as begging the question (a term almost everyone misuses, by the way); and it would likely net you an F pronto. No matter; Shapiro is one of the high priests of the Cult Of Anti-Intellectualism, which casually dismisses college knowledge as “liberal indoctrination“. They can always obtain their alternative facts at PragerU, where Shapiro is one of the “lecturers”.

Left hooks

Real universities, however, are vital venues for his favored schtick for self-promotion: playing the provocateur game.  First, he makes idiotically bigoted utterances that he knows (or at least hopes) will arouse disgust in anyone with a shred of decency. (e.g., “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in sewage”), Then he gets booked to speak on campuses where he knows there are bound to be many folks who find him repulsive, and some will be foolish enough to play into his hands by raucously protesting his appearance. Then he tries to provoke the protesters even more with puerile taunts. (“Hard-left morons”; “uncivilized barbarians”; “pusillanimous cowards”; “You guys are so stupid”; “You pathetic, lying, stupid jackasses”; “You can all go to hell”.)

Ultimately, he achieves his goal by stirring up such a hornet’s nest that he is disinvited from campus appearances; then he can proclaim triumphantly that The Left is being intolerant, and squelching his First Amendment rights. Cute, huh? Like other right-wing demagogues, he works on the assumption that the First Amendment grants him — but not necessarily anyone else — the right to say whatever he wants, wherever he wants, without repercussions.

As if programmed by some malicious cosmic geek, Shapiro and his fellow right-wing polemicists all closely follow the same playbook, and often even recite the same soundbites. This includes marginalizing victims of various kinds, and ridiculing empathy for victims. They claim that The Left makes a “virtue of victimhood” — even as they try hard to paint themselves as virtuous victims of The Left’s supposed totalitarianism and that legendary chimerical “political correctness”.

Living in a smug bubble that they constantly strive to reinforce, Shapiro and his cohorts tend to have the attitude that if a particular problem does not affect them personally, directly and immediately, then it must not exist. And like schoolyard bullies, they try to make themselves feel stronger by spitting upon the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, or just The Others (immigrants are a favorite target). Most important of all, there is the fact that those on the left generally sympathize with, and try to help, the oppressed and abused; and for right-wing fanatics, the most urgent imperative in the whole universe is to oppose them librulz at every turn. Accordingly, they have made social justice warrior a term of ridicule and contempt.

There are essentially three overlapping tactics they use in smearing victims. Shapiro dutifully pursues all three.

First, they simply deny, no matter how overwhelming the evidence, that persecution and discrimination exist at all — except against themselves, of course. (It’s an article of faith among many privileged white males that nobody is really underprivileged except privileged white males.) Thus, while Shapiro believes that “white men are presumed guilty because they are white men” he also believes that LGBT Americans are rarely the targets of discrimination. In reality, not only is it legal to discriminate against them in many places, but they are more likely to be targets of hate crime than any other minority. He’s also declared that there is no evidence that the killer of Trayvon Martin was racist. In fact, there is a mountain of such evidence. He merely chose to ignore it — if he was even aware of it at all.

He wanted to cast doubt on the gunman’s presumed motives, of course, to suggest that Martin was responsible for his own death. And that’s the second tactic: blaming the victim. Perhaps his ugliest manifestation yet was his response to the vicious murder by terrorists of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after they chopped off his fingers. Let’s repeat that so it’s perfectly clear: terrorists murdered Khashoggi after they chopped his fingers off.  Perhaps because he was a Muslim, and/or because he was a genuine journalist as opposed to a demagogue, the right-wing punditocracy immediately began blaming him for his own vicious murder, claiming that he was a radical Islamist who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. These smears had already been debunked by the time Shapiro decided to run with them, but he compliantly parroted them anyway. Which doesn’t speak well for his professed desire to unmask fake news. (We’ll get to that in a future discussion.)

The third tactic is just to try to change the subject, often by introducing red herrings. After Oprah Winfrey called out sexual abusers at the Golden Globes, he irrelevantly mused that she was speaking to “an entire town filled with sexual abusers and harassers” (What town isn’t?) and claimed that she’d never spoken up about it before — which presumably would render her comments on the subject invalid (hey, she must have brought it on herself when she was raped at age nine). In fact, as any survivor of sexual abuse will tell you, it’s a very difficult and painful topic to broach, and victims often remain quiet about it for years if not forever. Furthermore, Shapiro was dead wrong: Oprah has been an outspoken activist against sexual predators, citing her own experience, for literally decades

These facts were all readily available to anyone willing to do a modicum of research before mouthing off. But who need facts when you have an ideology and an enthusiastic fan base?

Facts, feelings and fantasies

Shapiro likes to proclaim that “the facts don’t care about your feelings”. He’s used it as the title of his public appearances. He’s uttered the phrase so much you’d think he trademarked it. But it’s an utterly ironic mantra for a guy who routinely pulls things out of his ass and brandishes them to whip up an irrational emotional response in his impressionable fans — e.g.;”Walk into virtually any emergency room in California and illegal immigrants are the bulk of the population”; socialism is tantamount to racism; homosexuality is a disease; “monitoring mosques is the simplest and most effective way of preventing terrorist attacks”; Obama is “philosophically fascist”; Obama is anti-Semitic; etc. etc. He even promoted a false rumor that Chuck Hagel accepted a donation from a group called Friends Of Hamas — when in fact there is no such group. The latter is another especially interesting lie to be spread by someone who presents himself as being concerned about weeding out fake news.

His slogan about facts and feelings is homage to a trendy right-wing straw man: that, because liberals/ progressives/ leftists are compassionate and humane, they are guided by feelings alone, without recourse to thought or information. This profoundly stupid myth gets smashed flat on a daily basis, and yet right-wing fanatics still gulp it down without chewing — thanks in no small part to having it dished out to them by unscrupulous manipulators like Ben Shapiro.

Not only do people like him ridicule “the left” for the unspeakable offense of caring about people, they preach that non-caring is The Way Things Are And Ought To Be:

Nobody, by and large, cares enough about you to stop you from achieving your dreams… No one cares about you; get over yourselves. I don’t care about you; no one cares about you.

Presumably, he’s even unaware that there is a growing mob of neo-Nazis who very much care that Jews (like Shapiro himself) are living in the U.S. and want them expelled if not killed.

Even when he gets his facts straight, Shapiro often cherry picks them to construct a false narrative. A few examples of his cranium-up-the-rectum syndrome appear over at Current Affairs in a piece by Nathan J. Robinson (who’s even younger than Shapiro, but has his shit together to an infinitely greater degree) thoroughly demolishing the idol Shapiro has constructed to himself:

First, [Shapiro says] Asian Americans are wealthier than white people, which would be impossible if racism determined economic outcomes. (Shapiro doesn’t mention that the vast majority of Asian American adults are immigrants, and they are disproportionately from the wealthier and more highly-educated segments of their own countries.) Second, he says, people of any race who work full time, are married, and have high school diplomas tend not to be poor, meaning that poverty is a function of one’s choice not to do these things. (In fact, this theory, widely cited by conservatives, turns out to be vacuous: of course people who have full-time jobs usually aren’t in poverty, the problem is that black people disproportionately can’t get jobs.) Next, Shapiro says that because black married couples have a lower poverty rate than white single mothers, “life decisions” are what creates poverty. (Actually, even when two black people pool their wealth in a marriage, “the median white single parent has 2.2 times more wealth than the median black two-parent household.”)  Finally, Shapiro says that the disproportionately black population in America’s prisons say nothing about racism, because black people simply commit more crimes, and “if you don’t commit a crime, you’re not going to be arrested for it” because “the police are not going around arresting black people for the fun of it.” (I have some black men in Louisiana I’d like Shapiro to meet so that he can explain his theory that people do not get arrested for crimes they haven’t committed. But I’d also like to hear him explain why black men receive 20% longer sentences for the same crime as white men with similar backgrounds.)

In short, Shapiro has demonstrated over and over that he has a very hard time distinguishing fact from feelings and fantasy. But he has plenty of company; the U.S. is currently engulfed in a reactionary plague. It has enabled the 45th White House Occupant to seize power. And it’s making people like Ben Shapiro filthy rich.

Hey, if you subscribe to the premium version of his website, he’ll even throw in a “free” cutesy souvenir tumbler labeled “Leftist Tears”. No doubt the proceeds go to a worthy cause. Like protecting the threatened Privileged White Male.

 

A Whole New Level of Silly in the “War On Christmas”

Prager

I surely don’t have to tell you that every year, beginning around the middle of September, two things start appearing like clockwork: Christmas decorations at your local Wal-Mart, and the media’s idiotic narrative about a supposed “war on Christmas” — evidently because the decorations didn’t come out in July. We’ve covered this topic before, but it seems that every year, somebody adds a whole new level of lunacy to it.  Shortly after the election of the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant, he did the one thing he does well — rouse the rabble — by vowing to force everyone to “start saying Merry Christmas again”. Whereupon Fox “News” gleefully declared that the war had been won. Now, they’re yammering about it as strongly as ever. Turns out he’s full of hot air and they’re full of crap. Who knew?

This year, the Bubblegum Crucifix Award for tackiest commentary in the name of religion goes to Dennis Prager, grand overlord of PragerU(niverse) for trying to provide an intellectual and factual justification for the whiny and petty reaction to this galactic nothing. (It’s an old video, but I’ve just now stumbled upon it.) His solution to the silly contrived “controversy” is simple: just say “Merry Christmas”. It will keep entitled white Christians happy, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it? If you just bow down to them on this one little thing, they surely won’t make any other demands, eh?

What his argument boils down to is that Christmas should be seated at the head of the holiday table because it has been in the past. But that’s never a valid justification for anything. In the past, we had slavery, smallpox and black-and-white vacuum tube televisions. He begins on a very ominous note:

The change from wishing fellow Americans “Merry Christmas” to wishing them “Happy Holidays” is a very significant development.

Significant? In what way? And what kind of “change” are you talking about? Many people have always said “Happy Holidays” instead of, or in addition to, “Merry Christmas”. And civilization hasn’t collapsed yet.

But the “Happy Holidays” advocates want it both ways. They dismiss opponents as hysterical; but at the same time, in addition to replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” they have relentlessly pushed to replace “Christmas vacation” with “winter vacation” and “Christmas party” with “Holiday Party.”

So, then, which is it? Is all this elimination of the word “Christmas” important or not?

It’s hard to see how he could miss the point by a wider margin no matter how hard he tried. Somehow he sees a conflict (“wanting it both ways”) in being (a) gracious toward everyone, and at the same time (b) realizing that it will have no negative impact on anyone. Striving for a level of respect for all beliefs and traditions — and saying “Happy Holidays” — in no way “replaces” Christmas or Christmas traditions. Holiday cheer is not a zero sum game, in which using one expression diminishes another. And people who react as if it did are indeed being hysterical. And quite often manipulative.

He goes on to recount the apocalyptic horrors that have resulted from this drive to “replace” Christmas.

In place of the universal “Merry Christmas” of my youth, in recent decades I have been wished “Happy Holidays” by every waiter and waitress in every restaurant I have dined; by everyone who welcomes me at any business; by my flight attendants and pilots; and by just about everyone else.

We feel your pain, man. How dare they be so congenial to him in an idiom unauthorized by the Christmas gestapo? And these shameless tormentors aren’t done with him yet.

When I respond, “Thank you. Merry Christmas!” I often sense that I have actually created some tension. Many of those I wish “Merry Christmas” are probably relieved to hear someone who feels free to utter the “C” word, but all the sensitivity training they’ve had to undergo creates cognitive dissonance.

Not that he’s paranoid or anything, but he just knows that every ear in the house is trained on him so they can catch him using the dreaded “C word”, and report him to the PC police so he can be interned in a sensitivity training reeducation camp in a Berkeley warehouse.

The opponents of “Merry Christmas” and other uses of the word “Christmas” know exactly what they’re doing. They’re disingenuous when they dismiss defenders of “Merry Christmas” as fabricating some “War on Christmas.”

He’s determined to have a war, dammit, and he’s going to even if nobody’s fighting back. If you fail to say “Merry Christmas” on cue like a trained seal, then you’re obviously an “opponent” of the expression.

Of course it’s a war on Christmas, or, more precisely, a war on the religious nature of America. The left in America, like the left in Europe, wants to create a thoroughly secular society. Not a secular government – which is a desirable goal, and which, in any event, has always been the case in America – but a secular society.

Note that Prager has an obsession, which has surfaced at many other times, with trying to save America from becoming “Europeanized”, whatever the hell that means. (Does it mean caring about people more than money and electing halfway sane functional adults as leaders? Europeanize us, please.) And he doesn’t seem to realize that precisely because America has a secular government (which even he acknowledges is desirable), it cannot have a religious society by design — it has been, in the past, a Christian nation by default.

Most people do not realize that the left believes in secularism as fervently as religious Jews and Christians believe in the Bible.

This is a very common tactic among sanctimonious demagogues — declaring that secularism and skepticism require just as much fanatical faith as religious zealotry. Some of them even tried to have “secular humanism” officially declared a religion so it would be subjected to the principle of separation of church and state! But spin and revisionism notwithstanding, secularism does not have a dogma, and secularists do not try to force everyone else to live by some secularist creed.

Note also that he repeatedly identifies the effort to “replace” Christmas as a preoccupation of “the left” — like many others of his mindset, his motto is that, whatever happens that he doesn’t like, blame them librulz first. But while it’s certainly true that them librulz tend to be much more tolerant and inclusive than non-librulz (despite all the spin and revisionism to the contrary), they by no means have a corner on the market. Many advocates of more inclusive greetings like “Happy Holidays” are non-librulz; some are even conservative Christians.

That’s why “Merry Christmas” bothers secular activists.

Okay, let’s see a show of hands. How many people are bothered by someone saying “Merry Christmas”? We’ll wait.

It’s a blatant reminder of just how religious America is – and always has been.

By default, yes. But there are two other things it’s always been: an evolving society and a cultural melting pot. And like it or not, the U.S. is ever so gradually evolving into a society in which people of all cultures and backgrounds are respected equally.  Incidentally, stressing America’s religious heritage is really a red herring. Precisely because American society was dominated by Christians, Christmas was shunned for many generations and even banned by law. Many of our forebears regarded celebration of the occasion as downright vulgar. Puritans knew how to wage a real war on Christmas. By the way, if you want to keep the Christianity in Christmas, then ditch the tree, the mistletoe, the holly, Santa Claus, yule logs, caroling, candles, fruitcake, gift giving and decorations in general. All have pagan origins (yes, even Santa Claus, despite his conflation with a Christian saint) and thus are far more un-Christian than “Happy Holidays”.

So, here’s a prediction: Activists on the left will eventually seek to remove Christmas as a national holiday.

Don’t worry, there will be condom machines in the Vatican before that ever happens. For one thing, Christmas is not a national holiday, but a federal holiday (and only since 1870, so it wasn’t exactly part of the Founders’ plans). There is a slight difference, but that’s a very minor thing, all else considered. The real point is, what would happen if activists on “the left”, or whatever direction they come from, did indeed, by some real Christmas miracle, get the federal holiday status of Christmas revoked? Well, what would happen is that Americans would go on celebrating Christmas just as they do now. There would still be parties (whatever you call them), trees,  presents, big meals with the family and football games. The difference is that the bills for it all would get delivered.

By not wishing me a Merry Christmas, you are not being inclusive. You are excluding me from one of my nation’s national holidays.

Dennis, I don’t even know you. Do you believe that by not hiring a private detective to track down your phone number so I can call you and extend Christmas greetings in the manner you demand, I’m slighting you? Then why should it be any worse for the people who do encounter you? Suppose you’re jostling among millions of strangers in Times Square in December and none of them speaks to you? Would you take it personally and say that they are all “excluding” you? Now suppose that one of them does acknowledge you with a smile and a hearty “Happy Holidays”. Is that individual, by your reckoning, being more cruel and abrasive than all the others? Evidently so. Now suppose one of them comes up to you, grabs you by the throat and yells in your face, “Christmas sucks, asshole!” He’s using the “C word” just like you wanted. So is he being more inclusive, more in the holiday (oops, Christmas) spirit than the other person?

Prager just can’t seem to get his head around the simple fact that holiday is a general class of things that includes Christmas. Thus, when you wish someone “Happy Holidays”, you’re also wishing them “Merry (a synonym for happy) Christmas”, unless you specifically state otherwise. To argue that the former is not more inclusive than the latter is like arguing that fruit is not more inclusive than banana. But that’s exactly what he does.

It borders on the misanthropic, not to mention the mean-spirited, to want to deny nearly all of your fellow citizens the joy of having Christmas parties or being wished a “Merry Christmas.” The vast majority of Americans who celebrate Christmas, and who treat non-Christians so well, deserve better.

Seriously, how twisted and disgusting do you have to be to interpret a sincere and cordial expression of good will as an insult and a threat?

Dennis, read my lips: NOBODY. IS. TRYING.TO. STOP. YOU. FROM. SAYING. CHRISTMAS. If people have a “holiday party”, it’s because they’ve chosen it of their own free will. (This was supposed to be a free country, remember?) By the same token, you’re free to call it a Christmas party, and/or think of it as a Christmas party, or just stay away and throw your own damn party.

So, please say “Merry Christmas” and “Christmas party” and “Christmas vacation.” If you don’t, you’re not “inclusive.” You’re hurtful.

Hurtful??? Careful, Dennis — your fans may start calling you a snowflake. He doesn’t offer a clue, of course, about exactly how failing to say “Christmas” is hurtful. It just is because it just is.

Okay, I have a little question for Dennis Prager and others like him. I would really like an answer. Take your time and think it over — you can even wait and get back to me when the next War On Christmas starts right after Easter, if you’d like. Here’s the question: what exactly would you have me do? I’m one of those nefarious infidels who prefer “Happy Holidays”. It has a nice, alliterative ring to it. It sounds fresher and more sincere than “Merry Christmas”, which has been beaten into the ground. As a distinctly secular person, I’m not obsessed with the “true meaning” of the occasion. I respect Christmas, along with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Lohri,  Makar Sankranti, Pancha Ganapati, Yalda, Krampusnacht, etc., etc. So should I just sweep aside my own preferences, my own values, my own identity, in order to please you?

Well, let me tell you something. I’m actually willing to accede, to an extent. I’ve been known to say “Merry Christmas” to people I know to be Christmas-crazed. (I’m more likely to say something a little less hackneyed like “Have a great Christmas”, but at least I get in the “C word”. ) So if that’s what blows up your skirt, I’ll be glad to wish you a Merry Christmas. I have just one little favor to ask in return. If I say “Merry Christmas” to you, will you say “Happy Holidays” to me? After all, the reason for the season is supposedly the birth of a Galilean guru who once said , “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. (He wouldn’t have used King James English, but that’s the gist of it.) And shouldn’t loving your neighbor include being willing to return a teensy little favor? And if you insist on framing holiday cheer as a gladiatorial undertaking, then our wishes will cancel each other out. But wait a minute. Hmmm…. couldn’t we achieve the same effect if we each just used the greeting of his or her own choice? Just a thought.

Here’s a modest proposal. Rather than constantly seeking out signs of warfare, why don’t we try walking in each other’s shoes, and see where that leads us. If someone says “Merry Christmas” to you, respond in kind. If someone says “Happy Holidays” to you, respond in kind. If you speak first, say what you feel is most appropriate. How difficult could that possibly be? How warlike? How hurtful?