Don’t Say His Name

 

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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.

 

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

Prager

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.

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.

 

Another Visit to Prager Universe

SPLC

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.)

Internet Memes: the Good, the Bad and the Awful

 

Meme doctored

Even though they are often distasteful and disgusting and downright stupid — or perhaps precisely because they are often distasteful and disgusting and downright stupid —  I have a certain fascination with Internet memes. They often encapsulate for better and (mostly) for worse the current moment in history, the present zeitgeist, the current propaganda-ruled culture of the nation I live in. The meme reproduced above (minus the grading) is one that I found especially noteworthy because it epitomizes, as few others I’ve ever seen, what is so egregious about a great many memes, and what is so awry and foul with the current state of public discourse in America. Let’s break it down bit by bit.

1. “Dear Democrats”

Though cloaked in the traditional salutation dear, giving the impression that this is a communication on the order of a friendly letter, this opening is a signal of the blatant polarization to follow. It suggests that nobody besides Democrats (and “liberals”) are alarmed about the current state of affairs in Washington. But so are independents, Libertarians, people with other party affiliations, and (despite their usual tendency to stick together no matter what) a growing number of Republicans. Even perennially tried and true member of the elephant herd George Will renounced his membership in the GOP when That Guy received the presidential nomination, saying “This is not my party.”

2. “For eight years we put up with”

Perhaps the best response to this is that a few pictures are worth a million words.

3. “your crappy choice of president”

Just about anyone of any ideological bent (present company included) can find something to disapprove of in Obama’s busy two terms in office. But there is no denying (though many people try very hard to deny it anyway) that he was a dynamic, effective and admirable leader. In fact, not long ago a group of some 170 political scientists ranked the nation’s presidents from first to worst. Obama was ranked 8th (up from 18th in the previous survey, when he was still in office), which is especially impressive considering how recently he left office — it often takes a few generations of perspective to fully appreciate a president’s impact. And number 45, by the way, was ranked number 45. But hey, what would political scientists know? They got no slogans.

To call Obama “crappy” is simply to substitute personal sentiment for fact. Which is, alas, something that happens with great frequency these days. “I believe in standing for the National Anthem, so everyone should.” “I don’t think gays should get married, so there should be a law against it.” “I’m a Christian, so everyone should live by Christian beliefs.” “I think abortion is murder so it should be outlawed.” “I love guns, so there’s a right to own one, and they prevent crime.” “I hate Obama, so he was a crappy president.”

4. “We complained about it, but we accepted it.”

“Accepted it” is an outright lie. “Complained” is the understatement of the millennium. See photos above. And see birtherism. And death panels. And he’s a Muslim. And he hates Christians. And he’s a socialist/ Marxist/ communist/ Nazi. And, and, and…

5. “You are showing us that you are weak, spoiled and inferior because you do not have the integrity”

You know irony is officially dead when someone uses a phrase like this while vigorously trying to defend the 45th White House Occupant.  But aside from that, it also is a vibrant example of not only polarization but tribalism and confrontationism.  It’s hard to imagine anything more “weak, spoiled and inferior” or more deficient in integrity than hurling childish insults. Especially ad hominem attacks against a wide swath of people you know nothing about. But this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll see in the cybersphere all the time. And it’s a telling illustration of why public discourse is at such a low state in America.

6. “to do the same thing”

False equivalence, false equivalence, false equivalence. One side is flying blimps of the baby dictator because (among many other things) he apparently conspired with Russia to throw an election, he lost the popular vote, he’s a bigoted misogynist who schmoozes with Nazis, he’s looting the nation for his own profit, and he can’t take a breath without lying. The other side burned effigies of Obama and spread loony rumors about him because he wanted to tax the rich, stop gun massacres, and make sure everyone had healthcare.

7. The Source

And notice who produced this meme: a group calling itself Alaska Patriots for a Free America.  As we’ve discussed before, “patriot” is a popular word used in  the propaganda technique of flag waving by those whose concept of “free” means free to impose their will on others.

This is certainly among the worst of Internet memes, but there are plenty of others to choose from. We previously noted several select examples promulgated by Liberal Logic 101, a fertile breeding ground for straw men.

The Other Side of the Coin

As you probably are aware, there are also plenty of good Internet memes out there. They may be vastly outnumbered, but they do exist. Here’s an example of one way a meme should be constructed. (Disclaimer: I created this one myself. But that isn’t what makes it a good one. It’s the other way around: I carefully put it together based on principles I’ve gleaned from many years of studying this sort of thing.)

liberals

First of all, I tried to be as non-confrontational as possible. The meme is not explicitly addressed to Republicans, “conservatives” or anyone else. They certainly are primarily the intended audience. But I’ve given them the chance to realize the shoe fits rather than try to force it on them with heated rhetoric. The impression I wanted to give them was that I was offering food for thought, for their own benefit — which in fact was exactly what I was doing.

I debated with myself for a long time about whether to add a final line: “And why should you be willing to give it to them?” This is certainly the question that I ultimately wanted them to consider — why should they play into the hands of propagandists, demagogues and hucksters? But I finally decided that it would be much more effective if they asked themselves that question rather than having someone else pose it.

What I did do, however, was point out as gently as possible something that they may not have realized: that the “liberals” they are being conditioned to demonize are not strangers and anonymous masses in remote locations; they are individuals with whom one comes in contact every day, and with whom one has had very positive experiences. And it doesn’t quite make sense mathematically that such librulz should be fine people individually, and yet add up to an evil threat as a whole.

This meme may not be perfect; it may not even be among the best you’ll encounter. But it was written thoughtfully rather than reactively, with good, constructive intentions. It’s the kind of meme we need to see a great deal more of — while seeing a great deal less of the first example.

More on “Redefining Incivility”

Red Hen

Some time ago, we documented how reactionaries have a habit of redefining incivility (and civility) to suit their purposes, making huge shifts of the goalposts as it suits their needs.  In recent days, there have been two well-publicized incidents that have made this tendency painfully apparent: the Red Hen affair, and the Maryland newsroom shooting.

In case you came in at intermission, here’s the backstory. For the past couple of years the nation has been totally dominated by the character who is now in the White House. On a daily basis, he has threatened and insulted people, characterized his media critics as “fake news” and egged his fan club to commit violence. He has cozied up to Nazis and white nationalists — like the one who drove into a woman and killed her —  whom he characterizes as “very fine people”.  He is, with little doubt, the most uncivil politician in the nation’s history. But since he spends about a third of his time on vacation, he can’t be nasty full-time;  thus he has a bevy of professional liars to constantly spread his misinformation and divisive rhetoric on his behalf.

So then, as you almost certainly are aware, one of his hired liars and her companions dropped in at a Virginia restaurant called Red Hen. And she was NOT refused service. Instead, after she was served, the owner of the restaurant, having been alerted by her staff,  drove to the restaurant, talked to her workers, and after getting a consensus from them (majority vote still means something in some sectors) very politely asked the hired liar and her group to leave. With her meal on the house.

So then the hired liar immediately wrote a whiny tweet, naming the restaurant and its location (not that she’d really expect the MAGA cult to use that information, heaven forbid), and insisting that she’s going to be nice and sweet to everyone no matter how much they abuse her. This is the same hired liar who repeatedly insults journalists just for having the temerity to do their jobs in her presence. Her equally vile father also weighed in on Twitter, again naming the restaurant and location (not that he was inviting the MAGA cult to harass it or anything):

Bigotry. On the menu at Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington VA. Or you can ask for the “Hate Plate”. And appetizers are “small plates for small minds”

This vile father, after all, is well known for his own huge mind and tolerance and his contempt for anyone who dares to refuse service to some individuals.

Huckabee

And he’s also a real enormous-cerebrum stickler for class, maturity and civility.

Huckabee

Right-wingers in general have made it clear that they think everyone has a right to be served anywhere. Except for gays, of course. And oh yeah, Democrats. These same wingers just recently were whooping it up over the Supreme Court’s edict that a baker had the right to actually refuse service to clients — not because they’re liars or accomplices to evil government policies, but simply because they’re gay.

And when a baker actually refused to serve Joe Biden — not because of anything Biden had said or done, but simply because he didn’t like Biden’s policies — he became a hero to the GOP and the reactionary media, which declared that he was standing on his “principles”, and being one of the “mini-revolutions”. He was even invited onstage at a rally by Paul Ryan.

Biden

So how did these wingers respond to the hired liar being politely asked to leave a restaurant? They went absolutely apeshit.  (And bear in mind that these are folks who like to call other people “snowflakes”.) The so-called President of the United States weighed in himself, in exactly the manner that you would expect such a mature and civil world leader to do:

The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!

Never mind that the Red Hen has not had any health code violations in 4 years, while Mar-A-Lago has been cited 78 times in the past 3 years. Just dig the maturity and civility.

The media were all over the story, as if they’d suddenly emerged from the cocoon they’d been in for the past few years, wringing their hands and beating their chests, and crying “Whatever happened to civility?” (One answer: these same punditocrats labeled it “political correctness” and declared it to be evil.) And it wasn’t just the alternate universe cult media of Fox et al. Even the mainstream media (you know, the lamestream media, the librulmedia, the fake news media) chimed in with the chorus. Including the stalwart Washington Post, which normally is at least conscientious enough to elicit the harshest condemnation from the MAGA cult. In an editorial titled Let the [T—p] Team Eat In Peace, the Post opines that it’s a tongue-clucking shame so many people won’t allow these verminous government officials to just clock out at 5, forget all the loathsome things they’ve done during the day, and just kick back and have their private moments. Even though the Post acknowledges they are anything but deserving of such consideration:

Mr. Trump has ordered terrible violations of human rights at the border, he is demonizing immigrants by his actions and his rhetoric, and people need to speak up however they can.

They will get no argument from us regarding Mr. Trump’s border policy, and when it comes to coarsening the debate, he is the prime offender.

So we’re all clear that resisters are quite justified in resisting. Even the WaPo is clear on that point. And yet, it has insisted that these egregious offenders should be left alone to pass among us and behave as if they were perfectly normal and benign. Furthermore, the WaPo insults its readers with this (and hang onto your seat if you’re reading this for the first time):

How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?

How hard is it to imagine?? Seriously? HOW HARD IS IT TO IMAGINE???? Not very hard at all for anyone who isn’t comatose. Not only are people who protect abortion rights not allowed to “live peaceably with their families”; in some cases, they aren’t allowed to live at all. There have also been many instances of women’s clinics being bombed, defaced or otherwise attacked. And just about any woman who patronizes Planned Parenthood, even for a routine exam, faces a threat of harassment and abuse.

The MAGA cult heard the dog whistles and picked up on those subtle hints about the name of the restaurant. So they went online and began leaving nasty reviews, and death threats (in a very civil manner, no doubt) even though most of them had never even set foot in the place. In fact they targeted any restaurant named Red Hen, even those totally unrelated establishments hundreds or even thousands of miles away (one in the Philippines!) as well as the Red Hen chicken farm in frigging Montana. And a Red Hen restaurant in Georgia that closed in 2010.

Many such places were deluged with nasty online messages, nasty reviews, nasty telephone calls, and even vandalism. All very civilly, of course. Even when these establishments informed the cultists that they were different and unrelated businesses, the cultists often refused to believe it. They also jammed the (real) restaurant’s reservation system with phony reservations, so actual customers were unable to make them.

Those cultists who did manage to scrape up enough rudimentary geography to locate the actual target of their (civil) ire showed up in person with civil anti-gay picket signs, civil threats of violence and even a bucketful of chicken shit, presumably produced by very civil poultry, that was dumped in front of the restaurant. The restaurant owner who (politely — did we mention that?) asked the hired liar to leave was compelled to resign from her position and the Red Hen itself had to stay closed for several days.

And how did the indignant punditocracy respond to all of this? Well… um… we’ll surely be able to let you know any day now.  We can tell you, though, that what they did do was lash out at Congresswoman Maxine Waters for urging other citizens to take a stand and give a cold shoulder to the administration’s evil henchmen. What else should we do? Welcome them with open arms, and thereby imply our consent to their foul deeds? But to hear the punditocracy tell it, she’d said something like… well, “if ballots don’t work, maybe bullets will”.

In fact the talking headlesses pointed the finger of blame at Waters a couple of days later when a gunman killed 5 people in the offices of the Capital Gazette in Maryland. Just try to wrap your head around that. A man slaughtered people with a gun (which “liberals” are always trying to restrict, and supposedly trying to “take away”); the victims were journalists (which the current putative president has been demonizing for months and months); but somehow a congresswoman who urged citizens to voice their displeasure with the current administration is supposed to be responsible for the bloodbath. Never mind that a certain right-wing rabble rouser*, only days before the shooting, had called for journalists to be massacred. Of course when someone did just that he offered the standard defense that he obviously was only joking hahaha and how could you be such an idiot as to take him literally even if deranged gunmen almost certainly would. All while being perfectly civil, no doubt.

Meanwhile, the wingnut blogosphere had a lip-smacking orgy of civil delight and celebration over the tragedy, saying among other things:

Good, hopefully they kill every fucking journalist.

AWESOME! MORE! MORE! MORE! I hope the police stand down for a while.

This story will be updated when more anti-gun faggots crawl out from under their rocks. as [sic] an aside, only 4 dead???? wtf if you are going to target reporters at least kill 400

dead journalists can’t spread leftist propaganda

Journos will pretend they did not deserve this despite being insufferable cunts

I seem to remember leftists talking about consequences

WOO! WOO! WOOOOOOOO! I can’t wait to see who our shooter is.

I hope many niggers have been killed.

And other such warm outpourings of right-wing civility. Along with, of course, all the usual loony tunes stuff about “false flags”, “crisis actors”, etc. And what kind of censure does the Foxiverse have for this kind of civil behavior? Well, um… we’ll get back to you on that. Eventually. Surely.

It isn’t just moving the goalposts. It’s moving them all the way into the bleachers, and then demanding more space.  It’s working the refs, it’s invoking false equivalence and bothsidesism, it’s gaslighting. These people are playing a schoolyard game in which they get to walk up behind you and club you in the head, but when you turn to complain about it, they call time out, demand a safe space, and whine to the teachers about you bullying them.  And the absurd media narrative about “civility” plays right into their hands.

(*As you may have noticed,  I have adopted a policy of not naming odious individuals if I can avoid it. The last thing they deserve is more free publicity and ego-fluffing.)