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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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 white. And 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 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”.
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.
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?
For the first in our series on media sources that pose as debunkers but desperately cry out for debunking themselves, we turn to the website American Thinker. With its respectable sounding name and its mascot of Uncle Sam emulating Rodin’s celebrated statue, American Thinker promises informed, thoughtful and insightful commentary. What it delivers is more of the same old same old. Here are, honest to Pete, some actual random titles of recent articles on the site:
California Wildfires and Environmental Radicalism
Election Slaughter for Climate Activism
Global Warming Snowed Under
Hollywood Erases Hope
Democrat(sic) Corruption Is a Clear and Present Danger to America
Florida Election Fraud’s Hidden Gun-Control Agenda
The Left Favors Global Warming
Green Energy is the Perfect Scam
Reminder: White Liberals Hate Living in Black Neighborhoods
As laughably awful as such titles are, you can be assured that the articles they accompany are only worse. (While you well might suspect that the two we’re about to examine were chosen because they represent the site at its most inane, they’re actually among the most intelligent posts appearing there!) It appears that American Thinker doesn’t do much thinking at all except about how to advance the right-wing narrative and attack “liberals” — which are really the same objective. Among other things, you’ll notice that Thinkering apparently involves an obsession with trying to discredit science. (A little hint, guys: if you want to maintain even a modicum of credibility, lay off parroting the kindergarten “skepticism” about climate change.) One article even exults that American Thinker’s beloved White House Occupant is not an “intellectual”, in quotation marks. And not surprisingly, it jumps on the right-wing’s oh-so-trendy “fake news” bandwagon, rebranding real news as fake, and vice versa.
“Fake news is whatever we say it is”
One such endeavor is authored by David Solway (one of those “former leftists” who transformed into a right-winger after having a revelation that smugness is more profitable than humanity) with a piece called A Brief History of the Fake News Media. Unfortunately, he gets so carried away with being brief that he neglects to include any actual instances of fake news. (The BBC offers a much more respectable compact history of fake news.) What he mentions instead are a couple of possible instances of spin and political distortion from decades ago. Those things happen constantly — sometimes inadvertently. And, to cite a current extremely popular right-wing defense, both sides do it.
One of his supposed milestones in the history of “fake news” is that the media in 1964 ran with the contrived Democratic narrative that Barry Goldwater was trigger-happy. That characterization was based on Goldwater’s own words, such as this pronouncement:
There is real need for the supreme commander to be able to use judgment on the use of these weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, more expeditiously than he could by telephoning the White House, and I would say that in these cases the supreme commander should be given great leeway in the decision to use them or not to use them.
Maybe it really was unfair to conclude from such remarks that he was an antsy nukehead. (Solway limits his own consideration of Goldwater’s words to a different statement that sounds even less sinister.) But that hardly qualifies as fake news. And if Solway really wants to highlight such cases of media irresponsibility, one must wonder why he makes no mention of a very similar but far worse case 36 years later: the media’s relentless complicity in the GOP’s dishonest characterization of Al Gore as a liar. That involved not only misinterpreting but willfully misquoting and mangling Gore’s utterances — many, many, many of his utterances. The only problem is, the Gore disaster does not (to make a titanic understatement) do much to support the all-important narrative of “librul bias” in the mainstream media.
He also brings up another incident from ages ago, British politician Enoch Powell’s so-called “rivers of blood speech” in 1968, citing the supposed dangers of allowing too many immigrants into his country. Indeed, Powell recommended allowing virtually no immigration at all, and warned of the resentment and anger among (white) citizens if the Race Relations Bill were passed into law. Some in the media expressed outrage over the apparent racist connotations of his remarks; and in Solway’s universe, that’s just another example of the librulmedia making up things out of whole cloth. (He previously defended Powell in an article called The Scourge of Multiculturalism. No, really. That’s the actual title.)
What he fails to mention is that several conservative politicians were also outraged by the speech — the Conservative leader Edward Heath even dismissed Powell from his post because of it. Furthermore, there were instances of violent racist attacks by Powell’s supporters who were egged on by the comments. Yet, by Solway’s reckoning, the less than glowing reception of that oration by the Fifth Estate illustrates that
The media are especially adept at creating villains out of whole cloth for public consumption to advance a particular and often dubious purpose. How else explain the transformation of significant political figures into synonyms for perfidy and opprobrium.
If he really believes this — and if he’s truly concerned about it — then one really, really, really must wonder why he makes no mention of a far more recent, far more protracted, far more intensive, far more dishonest, far more malicious, far more lopsided and far more catastrophic occurrence: the media’s relentless demonization of Hillary Clinton, whom they turned into… well, a synonym for perfidy and opprobrium. And guess what? That undertaking included several instances of real, actual, genuine, bona fide fake news — e.g., “Pizzagate”, Russian uranium deal, and “Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi”. No saga in modern history illustrates more clearly the disastrous impact of fake news than the tragedy of Hillary Clinton. It would have been the perfect textbook case study for Solway’s dissertation. Except for, um, one pesky little detail: it goes strongly against the grain of the librulmedia motif. Accordingly, he makes nary a peep about it.
But his most cringeworthy moment is in asserting that Joe McCarthy got a bum rap. It’s a stark testimony to the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of many wingers (like the Thinkerers, evidently) that they try not only to rehabilitate but to canonize this execrable waste of carbon. (More about this in a future post.) Particularly since the release of the Venona papers in 1995, the McCarthyites have been crowing that Their Boy has been exonerated, vindicated and exalted. Maybe the guy went a “little overboard”, they say, but he was right about the existence of Soviet spies in the U.S.
Yes, there were indeed such spies in the Thirties and Forties (when the Soviet Union was a U.S. ally, for what it’s worth), but they’d mostly come and gone before McCarthy ever decided to exploit paranoia for his megalomaniac pastime of destroying lives and careers. McCarthy knew zilch about communists and even less about spies, yet he was obsessed with conflating the two, and trying to implicate anyone who so much as wore red socks. He was just an unprincipled opportunist hugging the spotlight and firing into the dark. Perennial Communism scholar Harvey Klehr sums it up best:
But if McCarthy was right about some of the large issues, he was wildly wrong on virtually all of the details. There is no indication that he had even a hint of the Venona decryptions, so he did not base his accusations on the information in them. Indeed, virtually none of the people that McCarthy claimed or alleged were Soviet agents turn up in Venona. He did identify a few small fry who we now know were spies but only a few. And there is little evidence that those he fingered were among the unidentified spies of Venona. Many of his claims were wildly inaccurate; his charges filled with errors of fact, misjudgments of organizations and innuendos disguised as evidence. He failed to recognize or understand the differences among genuine liberals, fellow-traveling liberals, Communist dupes, Communists and spies — distinctions that were important to make. The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult. Like Gresham’s Law, McCarthy’s allegations marginalized the accurate claims. Because his facts were so often wrong, real spies were able to hide behind the cover of being one of his victims and even persuade well-meaning but naïve people that the whole anti-communist cause was based on inaccuracies and hysteria.
These words are from a speech that was even reprinted on the rabidly right-wing site Frontpage Mag, founded by frothy-mouthed right-winger David Horowitz, whose schizo creed is that “the political left has declared war on America and its constitutional system, and is willing to collaborate with America’s enemies abroad and criminals at home to bring America down”. And steal our precious fluids, no doubt. I repeat, even this pitiful soul has signed off on Klehr’s assessment. Note also that it was a Republican who finally stood up to McCarthy on the Senate floor. And when the Senate voted to condemn him, half of his GOP pals broke ranks to vote against him. (Do you realize what a feat it is to get even one GOPer to break ranks on anything?) And yet, we’re supposed to believe that McCarthyism is a wholesale fiction created by The Left in collaboration with their accomplices, the lamestream media.
Had them librulz really exercised such a stranglehold on the media, McCarthy would have been brought to account for his recklessness and cruelty years earlier. Yet in Solway’s universe, the media’s reporting, at long last, the truth about McCarthy is not only a specimen of fake news, but proof positive of librulbias in the media. His allegiance to the McCarthy cult probably tells you all you need to know about him. And, for that matter, all you need to know about American Thinker. Not to mention the fact that the site also defends the forty-fifth White House Occupant — it even labels as “snowflakes” those who oppose this putative president whose fragile ego and infantile whinings are the daily fodder of news and social media.
The color of welfare
Meanwhile, another frequent contributor, Sierra Rayne (a supporter of the 45th W.H.O., which is probably all you need to know about him) tries his hand at debunking the “myth of red state welfare”. As you may have heard, the meme has been going around (a “key liberal talking point”, as he pegs it) that “red states” — i.e., those who vote for Republican presidential candidates — are bigger welfare leeches than “blue” states — i.e., those who vote for Democratic presidential candidates. Rayne takes aim at this “myth”, but unfortunately for him, he seems to have a clumsy habit of serving up facts that debunk his own debunking efforts.
It’s really not fair, he says, to judge a state’s redness or blueness merely by how it voted in the most recent presidential election; we should look at a more long-term trend. Sounds reasonable enough. So then he posts the following table, covering percentages of votes for Democratic candidates in elections from 1980 to 2012.
Trouble is, even over this three-decade span, the figures strongly corroborate the “red state welfare myth”. Of the top 10 welfare states, only two were not clearly red (New Mexico and West Virginia, which were evenly split). And of the bottom 10 welfare states, only three were not clearly blue (Nevada and Colorado were distinctly red — though they’ve been trending blue of late — while New Hampshire was evenly split).
Ah, but it’s really the numbers in those columns on the right that he wants you to focus on. Because the central point of his thesis is that the hue of a state should actually be determined by how it votes for governors and congresspersons, because… well, just because. And here, he claims, is where the red state welfare “myth” completely “falls apart”. By his reckoning, North Dakota and South Dakota should be considered blue states, even though both have gone Democratic in NONE of these presidential elections.
It isn’t terribly difficult to see that something doesn’t add up about his claims. For one thing, it results in some serious mixed messages. Mississippi (which also scored zero in favoring Democratic presidents) voted 13 percent for Democratic senators and 62 percent for Democratic representatives. So which is it? There are similar problems with Louisiana (87 percent and 45 percent) and Minnesota (35 and 62).
To his credit, Rayne himself seems to acknowledge that it’s not always easy to determine that a state is either red or blue. But again, he swats down his own argument by bringing up California. Surely just about everyone in the galaxy recognizes that the Golden State is the quintessence of azure. You know, granola crunching, war protesting, pot smoking, free love and all that groovy stuff, man. Not to mention the “Hollywood elitists”. Yet, as he points out, California has a nasty habit of electing Republican governors, going back decades — those kooky Californians even elected a couple of those Hollywood elitists, for heaven’s sake.
Rayne’s mention of California should have clued him in that he was overlooking a very important point: voting habits are a reflection of the values that actually determine redness or blueness. And the evidence indicates that presidential choice usually reflects those values more accurately than voting patterns in other elections. The probable reasons are simple and obvious (except perhaps to Thinkerists). First, more voters participate in presidential elections. A lot more. Average voter turnout for presidential election years is about 50 percent higher than for midterm years; for other elections, it can be 200 to 300 percent higher! Furthermore, whatever the number of participants, most voters simply regard the presidential vote as the most important; thus, it’s more likely to show the true colors of the electorate. And voters probably are more likely to cross the aisle when they feel there’s less at stake.
In trying to pull a gotcha on them librulz for cherry picking, Rayne does some major cherry picking himself. Just another day in the life of a Thinkererer. For all its pseudointellectual posturing, American Thinker clearly exists for the same purpose as other right-wing propaganda outlets: to promote anti-intellectualism and bigotry.
America is absolutely dumbing itself to death. And the fact that many people take seriously these videos that offer predigested ideological snake oil is both a symptom and a cause of that demise.
So concluded my initial commentary on PragerU. But in fairness, we should add that its videos aren’t all bad. By the “broken clock” principle, they do occasionally get things right, out of sheer dumb luck if nothing else. One video, for instance, asks the question, “Was the Civil War About Slavery?”. And it’s a pleasant surprise to see that the presenter actually presents the right answer — particularly since it’s an answer that is at loggerheads with the mythology of much of the neo-Confederate movement that forms a large chunk of the right-wing constituency. But then, this presenter is an individual apparently having a bit of actual expertise on the topic, as opposed to the usual round of instant “experts” by virtue of ideological conviction.
But this appears to be an anomaly. I have watched at least two dozen more of these videos, and all of them have problems large and/or small. Most are quite repugnant, and a few are downright odoriferous. All are designed to advance the right-wing worldview that up is down, black is white, ignorance is knowledge, war is peace, freedom is slavery, hate is love, and it’s turtles all the way down. And above all, of course that “liberalism” is evil, and them librulz are the real enemy. In one video, Prager attempts to draw a distinction between “liberals” and “leftists”, and to insist that it’s really the latter who are the threat. He is unconvincing on all counts.
Intolerance of intolerance of intolerance
He isn’t the only one to resort to such shenanigans. One video asks who is really tolerant, and you don’t have to be a Nostradamus to predict where this train is headed: them librulz love to preach about tolerance but don’t know how to practice it. The usual narrative you hear, over and over, is that “the left” is hostile toward anyone who “disagrees” with them. What you don’t hear so often is that these “disagreements” frequently concern such things as neo-Nazism, homophobia, police killing African-Americans without cause, and dishonest propaganda demeaning refugees from “shithole countries”.
To make this particular presentation more convincing, its mouthpiece is himself a supposed liberal: Dave Rubin, who though calling himself a liberal, denounces progressives and “the left”. He seems to be rather murky about labels and indeed about his own convictions. (He even calls Ben Shapiro a “mainstream conservative”.) In fact, he seems rather confused about a lot of things. But one thing he has a very good handle on is how to invoke straw men:
If you believe we should judge people on the content of their character and not the color of their skin, the left calls you “racist.” If you believe that America is a nation of immigrants, but that our country should also protect its borders, the left calls you a “xenophobe.” If you believe that men and women are equal but fundamentally different, the left calls you “sexist.”
See the previous post on Prager Universe for more about racism, sexism and “protecting our borders”. Rubin is also quite adept at false equivalence.
Your dad might have voted for [the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant], your mom might have voted for Clinton, and your brother may not have voted at all.
Including, of course, the biggest false equivalence of all: that calling out bigotry is itself bigotry. In fact, the narrative constantly pursued by Rubin, Prager, Shapiro and their ilk is that intolerance of intolerance/ bigotry is even more intolerant and bigoted than intolerance and bigotry themselves. Right-wing logic is its own unique species.
After citing a few cases of what he considers intolerance by the left, Rubin insists that “these are not isolated examples”. Well yes, by definition, that’s exactly what they are. Even if you assume that all of the anecdotes are perfectly accurate and valid, they’re still just a few examples, out of gazillions of times “the left” interacts with others toward whom they’re supposedly totally intolerant. This is a very common tactic among polemicists: citing a few specific incidents and (often after tweaking and distorting them) claiming that they prove a general observation. Extrapolation and generalization.
If you want to make a solid argument that one group is more intolerant than another, you’ll need to do more than pile on anecdotes. You’ll need some kind of comprehensive study or, at the very least, a compendium of actions committed or sanctioned by an entire movement. A liberal may express disapproval toward someone who wants to outlaw gay marriage; but a conservative often wants to outlaw gay marriage. Even if you believe that the former is more intolerant than the latter, the fact is you’re still just talking about individuals, no matter how many of them you may be able to dredge up. But conservatives, collectively and officially, have actually tried to pass laws that discriminate against gays. If you think that protesting against such efforts is more intolerant than passing those laws, you have a problem I can’t cure.
Yet it’s really conservatives, not liberals, Rubin insists, who are the tolerant ones. Scroll down to the comments section below his video, and you’ll see just how “tolerant” they’re capable of being. For that matter, Prager Universe itself exists for the purpose of smearing, attacking and belittling “the left” by any devious means necessary. Just how tolerant is that?
Hate against hate of hate
In the same vein, another video from one of PragerU’s “credible thinkers”, Karl Zinsmeister, attacks the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps tabs on hate groups, and he declares that by doing so, SPLC is itself a hate group. Right-wing logic lives on its own planet.
One of this presenter’s criticisms is that SPLC just does its job too dang thoroughly. Its website lists — gasp — 917 separate hate groups in the U.S. Most of these, he complains, are tiny little factions nobody has heard of — which evidently is supposed to make them less hateful. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that there could be a great deal of overlap among these tiny groups and larger, more powerful groups; or that the very presence of so many groups, even if tiny, is an indicator of an alarmingly widespread culture of hate.
Zinsmeister mentions two individuals that SPLC has exposed as hatemongers, and tries to paint them as respectable, constructive activists — without mentioning the (well documented) reasons SPLC has for singling them out as dangerous extremists. He also glosses over the Tea Party’s delusional and toxic rhetoric, particularly toward President Obama, and retools the group as a benevolent coalition of folks who are just “wary of centralized government”. And he gives a drastically flattering makeover to Alliance Defending Freedom, which he characterizes as a benign “charity”, though it in fact exists largely to advance discrimination against gays, both at home and abroad. All he’d need to do to get a concept of ADF’s dishonest smears would be to check its website, which scurrilously declares that gay activists are “opponents of marriage” who
will not stop at removing the foundation of civilization. They will redesign society at the cost of your religious freedom.
So apparently, intolerance and bigotry don’t qualify as hate. But calling them out does. At least in the Prager Universe.
He also points to an incident at a college in Vermont in which right-wing radical Charles Murray
was violently attacked by protesters inflamed by the SPLC’s labeling of him as a racist. A professor escorting Murray ended up in the hospital.
To say that he was “violently attacked” is just a wee bit of an exaggeration. Though many students gave him a hearty unwelcome, only a handful of “protesters” got out of hand; many of them were masked, and it’s not even clear that they were students or why they were there. The professor who “ended up in the hospital” — i.e., went to get examined after a minor injury — was one of those nefarious “liberal professors” who supposedly are stirring up troublemakers like the protesters. In any case, to pin their actions on SPLC is dumb and inexcusable; Murray’s racist history has been reported by many people for years.
Likewise irresponsible is Zinsmeister’s evocation of a 2012 incident in which a gunman tried to shoot up the headquarters of the hate group called Family Research Council. Yes, the gunman specifically claimed that he was motivated by Southern Poverty Law Center’s exposure of FRC. But then the deranged gunman who shot Ronald Reagan claimed that he was motivated by Jodie Foster. Is she a hate group too?
Any deranged gunman can claim that he draws his inspiration from anywhere. But in determining whether an organization is a hate group we have to apply certain criteria: (a) Does the group actively incite violence or harassment? (b) Does the group lie or twist facts to smear its targets? (c) Does the group target entire demographic groups based on who they are rather than what they do? Zinsmeister hasn’t presented a shred of evidence that Southern Poverty Law Center does any of these things. But the organizations and individuals called out by SPLC all do at least one, and many do all — as does the puerile putative president whose posterior Prager persists in puckering up to.
Incidentally, Southern Poverty Law Center decries PragerU itself as a hate group. And its argument is much more convincing.
Zinsmeister professes to be a champion of “(r)igorous debate, honest discussion, open exchange of ideas”. But PragerU itself is more candid (albeit unwittingly so) about playing its true hand, at least in its marketing campaign. One ad asks prospective cult members if they are tired of the “fake news” provided by the “leftist mainstream media”. Wow, that’s a double whammy if not a triple or quadruple whammy. Not only is Prager Universe advancing and exploiting the myth of “liberal bias” in the media, it’s tapping into the cult meme that any information you don’t want to hear is “fake news”.
No website governed by sanity and decency would ever think of resorting to parroting the reckless and delusional soundbites of a deranged megalomaniac dictator. But PragerU knows its audience. They are people who live to disparage liberals/leftists/ progressives — anyone who doesn’t concur with their ideology. And they don’t care what kind of dog shit they wallow in while doing so.
(See also the conclusion of this series on PragerU.)