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.

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.)

 

 

 

Reviewing the National Review, Part 3

national-review-anniversary-william-f-buckley-b-4

William  F. Buckley. Jonah Goldberg. Kyle Smith.  There’s been an endless parade, over many decades, of worthy demonstrators of the intellectual bankruptcy of the National Review and the delusional culture it figureheads. We’ve already examined them in two previous posts; but sometimes twice just isn’t enough to adequately showcase just how godawful something really is. So let’s consider Jeremy Carl.

In a column written this year for Mother’s Day, he bemoans the fate of Phyllis McGinley. Phyllis who? Exactly. McGinley was once a heralded American (minor) literary figure, and the fact that she is not now a household name is a matter of grave concern to Mr. Carl. No, actually it’s a matter of great glee because it affords him an illustration of the Left’s War On American Motherhood. No, really.  That’s the actual title of the piece: Phyllis McGinley and the Left’s War on American Motherhood. Which leftists presumably are waging when they’re not too preoccupied with their War On Christmas.

To Carl and company, anything vile or evil that exists in the world (and indeed anything they don’t like, which they hold to be synonymous with vileness and evil) is the result of sinister machinations by them librulz.  And this time Exhibit A is the relative anonymity of Phyllis McGinley:

[W]hat consigned McGinley to the dustbin of literary history was her politics. And in the un-personing of McGinley, we can get a glimpse of the Left’s simultaneous ruthlessness and cultural hegemony. Simply put, McGinley’s thought crime was that she was a happy, Christian, suburban mother and housewife who extolled both her life in the suburbs and traditional roles for women. For the Left, her failure to be miserable and angry at her situation was an unforgivable sin. The erasure of her voice and what it represented is a sobering thought for conservatives on this Mother’s Day. As with much else in our culture, absent voices like McGinley’s, we look at motherhood, even, through a left-wing lens.

What does (or would) it mean to “look at motherhood… through a left-wing lens”? If you actually ask dedicated left-wingers they’d probably respond something like (a) recognizing that there is more to motherhood than a perpetual state of being “barefoot and pregnant”; (b) recognizing that motherhood is properly a matter of choice rather than coercion; (c) recognizing that women, even if they are mothers, have as much right to career fulfillment as anyone else; (d) recognizing that families having two mothers instead of just one are doubly motherly. The third mentioned has become more or less a reality, but it has been due to economic necessity as much as anything else. As for the other three, do you really believe they have won universal acceptance in the U.S. of A.?

One has to wonder how, given The Left’s ruthlessness and hegemony, McGinley ever sneaked into print in the first place, much less became so popular in her day. Never mind that The Left is so ruthless and hegemonic toward motherhood even though many leftists are themselves mothers and all of them have had mothers. What’s really so vicious and self-defeating of Them Libruls is to bury McGinley in oblivion even though she was n fact one of their own. At least, as Mr. Carl so pointedly fails to mention, she was a registered Democrat. Furthermore, she was pro-choice. In the frigging Fifties.

So then the librulz must have had a vendetta against her because of her anti-feminism, eh? After all, she was criticized by feminist Betty Friedan, and heaven knows Betty Friedan has totally dictated what ensuing generations of Americans read or don’t read. Oops, there’s a problem here too. McGinley, though she was at loggerheads with the feminist movement, was a bit of a feminist in her own way.  In addition to being pro-choice, she used her platform to advocate for a liberal arts education for women.

Among her writings is a 1945 story called The Plain Princess (which Mr. Carl also fails to mention) that is nothing less than a modern feminist fairy tale.  The female protagonist achieves her goals and overcomes her setbacks independently — not with any intercession from a male, but entirely by her own resources. So the ayatollahs of The Left buried this as well? When Mr. Carl refers to her “politics”, he apparently just means her chosen lifestyle. But McGinley’s contentment with being a housewife and mother was not intended as a declaration that all women should content themselves with those roles.

It never seems to have occurred to Mr. Carl that there might, just maybe, be other reasons for McGinley’s slippage from the public eye rather than a malicious plot by them librulz. Though he builds her up to be the most significant poetess since Sappho, the truth is she wasn’t really a poet at all, but a versifier — i.e., she wrote light verse as opposed to “serious” poetry. (True, she was skilled enough at it to win a Pulitzer. But the Pulitzer committee also dishes out trophies to cartoonists; does this make those cartoonists as accomplished in sketching as Picasso?) He mentions that none other than Sylvia Plath praised her early in her career, but fails to mention that Plath later spoke dismissively of her for squandering her potential by restricting herself to an output that was only two or three notches above greeting card doggerel.

Writers of light verse rarely enjoy a long literary longevity. Most people are also quite unfamiliar with Richard Armour, who penned far more light verse than McGinley and died more recently. Do them librulz also have something against Fatherhood? In fact, the only writers of light verse who are venerated across the generations are those who write verses or lines that are widely quoted, such as Ogden Nash. (And many lines attributed to Nash were actually written by Armour.) Most Americans are probably not even familiar with Nash; let’s face it, American society these days isn’t particularly literate at all. Which makes it all the more silly to make a political issue out of the public’s unfamiliarity with a decidedly lesser light in the American literary pantheon.

Mr. Carl also seems quite clueless about the fact that there’s a good reason light verse is so ephemeral: it tends to be topical and dated. Phyllis McGinley used the medium to extol the joys of a white picket fence Ozzie and Harriet existence that few readers can relate to anymore.  Likewise, most readers are not that interested in poodle skirts or white powdered wigs or surreys with fringes on top. That doesn’t mean that such things have been quashed by the boot heel of the Evil Left. It just means that times change. Get over it, already.

The master’s voice

We’ve looked at only a few of the more egregious orgies of nonsense from the archives of NR, but there are plenty of others to pick from. On just about any given day, you can take a look at the titles of articles the esteemed journal has to offer, and see boilerplate delusional wingnut talking points on display: Yes, Hillary Should Be Prosecuted; Yes, the FBI is Biased (and only the president should fix it); No, There Is No Evidence the GOP Colluded With Russia (but there is evidence the Democrats did); Let’s Face It, Planned Parenthood Is Evil (because they “sell baby parts”, doncha know). Take just about any fact and stand it on its ear, and you’ll probably have a premise the NR editorship will salivate over.  Would the rag’s venerable Founding Father have approved? Unquestionably, since a great deal of it occurred in his lifetime and under his stewardship.

Once upon a time the sage Mr. Buckley uttered this little gem:

Conservatism is the tacit acknowledgement that all that is finally important in human experience is behind us; that the crucial explorations have been undertaken, and that it is given to man to know what are the great truths that emerged from them.

This was in 1959, before the first moon landing, the Internet, personal computers, virtual reality, stem cell research, and a great many other “crucial explorations”. And while his statement is a rather accurate (though incomplete) reflection of the conservative mindset, it’s appalling if not terrifying to realize that this was uttered by someone who fervently believed such a mindset was a good thing.

Indeed, in the mission statement he penned for the premiere of his new journalistic bauble, he declared that NR “stands athwart history yelling Stop”. A magazine pitted not only against progress, but against history itself. How much more regressive does it get than that?

Naturally, this means that he considers liberalism Public Enemy Number One. In fact, the statement above is taken from his book Up From Liberalism. The keynote of his “conservative” worldview is that liberals are evil, and good “conservatives” must undo everything they’ve done. In other words, his “conservatism” is really neoconservatism, a different bird altogether. He was the torch bearer of the contemporary American reactionary mob that ultimately dragged the forty-fifth White House occupant into office.

He equates liberalism with communism, and communism with… well, devil worship or something. And he had no compunctions about tossing out some cutesy quotable straw men:

Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.

Liberals don’t care what you do as long as it’s compulsory.

And this might be a good time to mention that he was equally perceptive and knowledgeable about other topics:

The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”

Liberalism, he proclaims, is oppression and totalitarianism. While conservatism is ultimate liberty. Even as he advocates white supremacy and discrimination against gays and forcibly tattooing people. And declaring that “Conservatives should be adamant about the need for the reappearance of Judeo-Christianity in the public square.”

He had a dream. To smash that Evil Liberalism and install “conservatism” on the throne. To make “conservatism” the hegemonic voice in American media and culture to an even greater extent than it already was. To impose religion on the public to an even greater extent than it was already being imposed. To make the world safer for Archie Bunker. These noble objectives live on in the pages and posts of the ever-entertaining National Review.

Reviewing the National Review, Part 2

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Recently I’ve had occasion to drop in again and check out the lay of the land at the National Review. And it really hasn’t changed much since I first familiarized myself with it nearly two decades ago.

Chasing the Chappaquiddick Chap

What led me back there was that someone brought to my attention a “review” of the film Chappaquiddick by the NR’s “critic”, Kyle Smith. (I put those words in quotation marks because Mr. Smith focuses on supposed political, rather than artistic, merit.) The caption breathlessly proclaims that the film “exposes Ted Kennedy at last”. This in itself was enough to make me bust a gut.

These are folks who are fond of promoting the silly and ill-informed stereotype of Hollywood celebrities as shallow, coke-snorting, self-absorbed brats who are out of touch with the real world — a myth adopted so people like NR hacks can summarily dismiss, in genetic fallacy fashion, any non-reactionary cause those celebrities espouse.

Yet when the film industry produces a flick that “exposes” a librul icon, they are eager to hail it as a divine revelation of infallible gospel.

And Mr. Smith is just getting warmed up. The first paragraph of this “review” reads:

Chappaquiddick must be counted one of the great untold stories in American political history: The average citizen may be vaguely aware of what happened but probably has little notion of just how contemptible was the behavior of Senator Ted Kennedy. Mainstream book publishers and Hollywood have mostly steered clear of the subject for 48 years.

A quick check of Amazon shows that no fewer than a dozen books about the Chappaquiddick incident are available for purchase, as well as many more books in which the event is at least discussed. A quick check of IMDB shows that it has been the subject of at least two documentaries. What would it take to avoid the charge that Hollywood and the publishing industry are “steering clear” of the subject — obsessive reporting of it 24/7? Been there, done that.

Mr. Smith evidently wants his readers to believe that the tragedy was just swept under the rug by the librulmedia. (Perhaps this is what he was taught in one of those “conservative” college classes.) It’s characteristic of wingers to figure that if they can’t remember something, then it didn’t happen.

But as someone who was both alive and sentient at the time, I can assure you that there was nobody this side of Andromeda who simply ignored the incident. It hardly could have received more media saturation even had Mary Jo Kopechne been wearing a stained blue dress. And years later, when it was still a heated topic of discussion, I recall commenting to someone that the senator must have been driving one hell of a huge automobile considering how many people were so certain of exactly what transpired that they must have been passengers themselves.

Wingnuttery sort of makes sense if you’re willing to ignore (or concoct) enough facts. It isn’t enough that Smith calls Kennedy’s behavior “despicable” without mentioning that the senator was severely disoriented from his injuries, including a concussion.  He also declares, quite falsely, that Kennedy simply “rested” beside the water while Ms. Kopechne was drowning. In fact, despite his state of mental disarray, Kennedy made (as reported by The Boston Globe) at least “seven or eight” attempts to rescue her. But hey, who cares about pesky details when you have an ideology to promote.

The Big Fake-Out

While I was in the neighborhood, I also checked out another Smith masterpiece, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Outrageous Assault on Our Democracy. The topic is a serious one, something that people are rightly concerned about: i.e., the way Sinclair has forced its talking heads to parrot a canned statement about “fake news” that makes it clear the network is goose-stepping behind the 45th White House Occupant. It’s a development that many of those talking heads themselves are quite uneasy about.

Smith, however, snidely brushes it aside in a manner that is his clumsy attempt to wield irony, a technique he doesn’t quite seem equipped for. While superficially striking a posture of concern, he makes it clear that in fact he is a Sinclair goose-stepper himself. He’s also a deft side-stepper, skirting the real issues with statements such as his closing:

Whatever will become of this country if people use the media properties they own to simply say whatever they feel like saying?

Allowing his strained irony to tip over into sarcasm, he scoffs:

Judging by the truth as established by ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, PBS News, NPR News, CNN, MSNBC, and nearly every newspaper and newsmagazine published in the United States, the truth is actually quite similar to what the Left believes.

It’s an obeisant nod not only to the “liberal bias” myth and the “both sides” myth, but to the popular right-wing narrative that certain media outlets (most notably CNN) exhibit biases and inaccuracies of only one flavor. And it’s a foghorn false equivalence to suggest that the sporadic (and mostly inadvertent) journalistic lapses of these outlets — of both a “liberal” and a “conservative” nature — are on a par with constant, round-the-clock, deliberate dishonesty and distortion of an exclusively right-wing bent by the likes of Fox and Sinclair.  Mr. Smith seems to be utterly oblivious to the distinctions between bias, inaccuracy and dishonesty.

He also takes advantage of the opportunity to invoke that trusty old “Hollywood elite” myth with jabs at Jimmy Kimmel and John Oliver. Can he really be so clueless as to be unaware that most comedians are much better informed than the average citizen, much better informed than many politicians and putative journalists — and infinitely better informed than most NR hacks? Speaking of Kimmel, Smith indulges in another false equivalence by suggesting that ABC’s airing of Kimmel’s program over hundreds of stations is comparable to Sinclair headquarters dictating that its anchors parrot a boilerplate disingenuous and manipulative spiel.

And he sneers at veteran newsman Dan Rather, whom he labels as (wink, wink) a “widely respected source of nonpartisan media commentary”. Yes, this is the same Dan Rather who said…

George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions, and as just one American, wherever he wants to line up just tell me where..

…even as Dubya was gearing up to exploit the 9-11 terrorist attacks as a pretext for ramming through a whole raft of fanatical right-wing measures that were often quite unrelated to security. The same Dan Rather who later acknowledged that he failed, for years, to do his job by probing the supposed justifications for the assault on Iraq — a journalist undertaking that, I’m guessing, would have been regarded as hopeless and shameless librul propaganda by the good folks at NR. Most of us might be tempted to deprive Mr. Rather of his Librul Propagandist badge for this kind of neglect. But Mr. Smith knows better: he knows that anyone who fails to hew unwaveringly to standard right-wing talking points is so deep into left field as to be over the wall.

While he’s targeting Rather, Mr. Smith takes the opportunity to focus on a Facebook post that is (slightly) awkward in its wording, and declare that Rather has committed “grammatical lapses” and sneers, “You’d lose your ability to construct a sentence too if you sensed the risk as keenly as Rather does”. This from the same rag that not only touted the virtues of a tongue-tied “misunderestimated” simpleton, but now touts the virtues of an incurious despot who speaks “bigly” in three-word sentences, mostly with himself as the subject. It’s a glaring instance of genuine irony that seems quite lost on the redoubtable Mr. Smith.

Finally, he gets around to quoting the statement with which Sinclair is programming its talking heads, a superficially innocuous manifesto about shunning bias, false reporting, and an agenda in favor of Facts and Truth. Taken at face value, it’s a string of noble sentiments. But anyone who is at all familiar with Sinclair knows better than to take it at face value. Well, except for Mr. Smith, perhaps:

So Sinclair is against media bias, one-sided reporting and fake news? It asserts that truth is “neither left nor right”? Preposterous.

An even slightly perspicacious commentator might have observed that Sinclair’s very act of thrusting a cookie cutter declaration upon its mouthpieces is a damn good indication that it speaks with forked tongue.

And then he segues into the ultimate coup de grace to his own credibility:

Need I say more? These lunatics are actually playing into the hands of [the White House Occupant], who has also said he doesn’t think the media should run fake news.

Unless he’s much more adept at wielding irony than he appears to be, Mr. Smith actually believes that the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant — who rode to fame on the back of fake news, rose to the White House on the back of fake news, continues to profit from fake news, and spreads fake news with every breath — is actually a mortal enemy of fake news, just because he says so.

If you really believe that, you are not merely ignorant. You really shouldn’t try to live on your own without full-time supervision. On the other hand, you have a lucrative career awaiting you at the ever-entertaining National Review.

 

 

 

 

Reviewing the National Review, Part 1

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As you may be aware, right-wing fanaticism in the U.S. comes in several overlapping varieties, each catered to by its own set of delusional and manipulative media outlets.  The largest segment is the Good Old Boy Faction, centered in the Deep South, which revolves around blatant bigotry and manufactured outrage; it finds its main voice in Fox “News” , OAN and talk radio. Then there is the Tin Hat Brigade, which never met a conspiracy theory too kooky to swallow — at least if it’s about someone named Clinton or Obama; its outlets are also the above, as well as Breitbart, Alex Jones, NRATV, et al. And a relatively small but supremely influential sector is the Smug Pseudointellectual Coterie, which tries to excuse or gloss over the beliefs promulgated by the other two groups, often while selectively citing some Eighteenth Century theorist and/or pretending that Ayn Rand is actually worth reading. Its most powerful media organ is almost certainly the ever-entertaining National Review.

The NR was founded in 1955 by William F. Don’t-You-Dare-Omit-My-Middle-Initial Buckley Jr., a poster boy of white privilege who became the godfather of modern “conservatism” (i.e., neoconservatism — see the difference here). Its objective was to provide this “conservatism” with a voice he felt it had been lacking in American culture, a claim he made with a perfectly straight face.  Unlike most reactionaries, Buckley was highly educated, articulate and suave — indeed he played those qualities to the hilt. Even as a teenager watching him on TV, I was amused by his haughty demeanor and stuffy lip-licking pretentiousness.

But a jackass that can bray in different languages remains, nonetheless, a jackass. And Buckley’s displays of pomposity could not conceal the speciousness of his arguments or the faultiness of his facts. Despite his efforts to mask the bigotry at the core of conservatism and “conservatism”, it sometimes oozed to the surface, not only in his beloved political journal, but in his own words.  Peel away the slick veneer of William F., and you find the grubby persona of Billy Bob. In one of the televised exchanges with his frequent verbal sparring partner, Gore Vidal, he called Vidal a “queer” (a major slur back then); and he was to the end an opponent of gay marriage.  A partial list of his other extensive crudities, courtesy of Rationalwiki:

  • Buckley’s career began in 1951 with the publication of God and Man at Yale, an attack on his alma mater that urged the firing of professors whom he felt were insufficiently hostile to socialism and atheism. Despite this early assault on academic freedom, Buckley in later years routinely took offense at what he saw as liberal “political correctness[8]
  • Suggested that prostitutes and addicts with AIDS be tattooed so as to warn others.[12]
  • Supported Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism, which he never seemed to regret.[23] Freedom if it’s only your freedom, right?
  • Prior to [officially] renouncing his racist views in the mid 60’s, he used the National Review to support segregation. He even wrote an article in support of white supremacy, and he never really apologized for the article.[24]

Not only did he “never apologize” for his white supremacist screed of the Fifties, he reaffirmed his commitment to its tenets when questioned about it in a more enlightened era decades later.

In 1988 Buckley sneered at the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis on the grounds that he had no experience in Washington. Twelve years later, he was hawking former Texas Governor George W. Bush and sneering at those who questioned Junior’s lack of experience in Washington. It’s unbearably painful to contemplate the Gordian knot such an erudite gentlemen as Buckley must have twisted himself into in order to get behind a witless wastrel who didn’t know that Social Security was a federal program, and thought that “persevere” was the same word as “preserve”. For that matter, the elder Bush, whom Buckley touted over Dukakis, was not exactly an intellectual titan himself.

The torch is passed

Buckley is gone now, but well before his departure, he inspired others to carry on his great work at the ever-entertaining National Review.

Over the years, the NR has provided a frequent platform for the likes of Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, John Derbyshire, and countless others more or less equally vile. For most of its personnel, however, the problem isn’t so much vileness as cluelessness and naivete. Which brings us to Jonah Goldberg.

Not only a frequent contributor but for a time the online editor, Goldberg was an excellent choice to assume the mantle of eloquent advocate for vacuity. (Except that his elevation to the post violated The Master’s expressed dictum that the editor should be a “believing Christian”. But hey.) He’s even authored a book called  Liberal Fascism that is every bit as inane as it sounds.

Jonah entered my life shortly after that disastrous 2000 election. Like other thinking and concerned citizens, I was quite disturbed by not only the caliber of the individual who had attained the office of the presidency, but also by the manner in which he did so. And I really, really wanted to understand how so many people could support not only one, but both. So I resolved to try to find whatever justification there might be (and that I possibly might have overlooked) for the views and attitudes of the American right-wing culture at the turn of the millennium. And it seemed to me that the best way to do that was to read the NR. Which I began doing regularly.

But my quest for a revelation was entirely a bust. In fact, I ended up more bewildered and appalled than ever. For all its pretense at scholarly depth, this reactionary rag just dressed up the same seedy wingnut talking points in a glittery ball gown: that the Second Amendment enshrines a citizen’s right to pack heat — and any attempt to reduce the number of people guns kill is pure Gestapo; that abortion is murder — and outlawing it is the best way to make it go away; that American media has a liberal bias; that liberals are simultaneously socialists, communists and fascists; that racism is either extinct or no big deal; that America should be a fundamentalist theocracy; that the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor; that Ronald Reagan was a Great Communicator and a Strong Leader of Impeccable Character who brought back patriotism, ended the Cold War and cured insomnia; and that Ayn Rand is actually worth reading.

The NR declared that obviously American media have a liberal bias, because there are more news stories about “gun control” than about guns. Never mind that (a) guns are normally not very newsworthy until they kill someone, and (b) gun-totin’ “conservatives” themselves are more interested in reporting and hearing about “gun control” than anyone else. The cover of one issue featured a smirking George W. Bush — who declared that his electoral victory was “political capital, and I intend to spend it” and taunted congressional Democrats to “get on board or be left behind” —  proclaiming that his most endearing quality was his “modesty”.

At one point one of NR’s readers wrote in to ask for recommendations about where college kids could attend “conservative” classes. Rather than admonish the reader for trying to polarize knowledge (which “conservatives” frequently do by wailing about academic “liberal bias”, which is more imaginary than real), the editors obliged by actually making some suggestions about where to do just that. To these folks, there are liberal facts and there are conservative facts (also known as alternative facts); and they feel they are entitled to be saturated and protected from reality by the latter, whether it be in the media or in academia; and any professor who fails to do so is guilty of trying to indoctrinate students into communism. (Thumbing through a “conservative” high school science textbook, I once came across this statement: “We can be sure the earth was created exactly as the Bible tells us.” This is no doubt the kind of science “conservatives” want to see in university textbooks as well.)

Craving a smidgen of illumination, I wrote to the editors of NR Online about some of the idiotic statements it had published, and to my surprise, I received several replies from Jonah Goldberg, the online editor in the flesh. I give him credit for at least making an attempt to bridge the communication gap with one of them librulz, and perhaps he honestly was doing the best he could. But he didn’t exactly appease my horror and disgust any — quite the contrary.

When I commented about the many, many, many, many shady GOP election shenanigans in Florida in 2000, he replied that he knew there were no irregularities because a journalist pal in Florida had told him so. He was dead serious.

He wrote a piece bemusing that “liberals” protest so much about GMO’s but seem to be quite okay with stem cell research. I gently pointed out to him that, first of all, objection to GMO’s was by no means exclusively or even primarily, a concern of the left (most of the left-leaning folks I know consider it much ado about nothing, as I do myself). And second,  how often do you hear of anyone consuming a petri dish full of stem cells?

Desperate to find any excuse he could to ridicule the “kumbaya crowd”, he even wrote an article about the leftist excess known as … wait for it… vegetarianism. Which he assailed with “facts” that he must have obtained from a “conservative” professor. Whereupon some of his readers informed him that they were both vegetarian and “conservative”, so STFU already.

Meanwhile, one of his fellow columnists penned a smug self-congratulatory piece about how he had made peace with being a “crunchy conservative” — i.e., a right-winger who appreciates “health food”. In classic winger fashion, he focused on the impact upon his own well-being and pocketbook, steering clear of the impact his choices might have for the rest of the planet.

While indulging in the usual right-wing nonsense about abortion, Jonah opined that “liberals” don’t seem to have any clear belief about when life begins. I responded that on the contrary, most “liberals” seem to just figure life begins when it actually begins: i.e., with birth. And even if anyone could prove otherwise, and establish beyond a doubt that a fetus is a fully entitled person that has a right to live, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that said fetus has a right to live inside another person’s body. And I noted that the very fixation on when life begins is a major tangent than has no bearing on the more crucial questions of what factors contribute to abortion and what measures can prevent it. I asked him why, given the counterproductive chamber of horrors that resulted when abortion was banned in the past, he presumed it would be any more effective in the future.

Moreover, I invited him to indulge with me in a little thought experiment. Imagine, I suggested, that the government actually succeeds in decreeing that life begins at conception. Will it then begin issuing certificates of conception instead of birth certificates? And in order to make certain that such conceptions are accurately documented, will it begin monitoring them? Is that the kind of role he envisions and desires for the Big Bad Government he professes to be leery of?

But such an attempt to provoke a more thought-provoking discourse than the NR probably had seen in a decade would just meet with a response like, “Sorry, I just can’t take this seriously.” Which is, alas, the big problem with people like him. They have no trouble being dead serious about birtherism, voter fraud, “deep state”, climategate, “socialized medicine”, “death panels”,  gun confiscation, the “War on Christmas”, and Planned Parenthood “selling baby parts”. But facts and possibilities that pierce their smug “conservative” bubble? Sorry, can’t swallow that.

He exchanged emails with me several times, probably because he was consumed by the right-wing obsession with confrontation and one-upmanship. But finally he stormed off in a hissy fit and wouldn’t come out of his trailer again. And what prompted it? I had sent a message in which I casually commented that I generally had found Jews to be more tolerant than Christians. You’d think that Jonah, being certifiably Jewish himself, would have been pleased by that. But while wingnuttery may exist for the exclusive benefit of the male WASP culture, it has managed to entice a number of individuals outside that caste (token minorities, etc.) into passionately defending it. And thus he replied in a venomous snit riddled with uncharacteristic errors of grammar and spelling, as if I’d sprayed graffiti on the Statue Of Liberty.

The honeymoon was over. But truth be told, I was ready for it to be over. I had begun to realize that if you’ve read one NR article, you’ve pretty much read them all.

(See Eric Alterman’s astute commentary about NR on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.)

 

Should Propaganda Be Penalized?

 

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On March 5, Pastor Frank Pomeroy was sitting in his car outside his church in Sutherland Springs, Texas when a man and woman approached and began vandalizing a poster on the church where a horrific massacre had occurred 4 months earlier.  When he confronted them, they recognized him and began verbally accosting him, calling the bloodbath a fraud and insisting that Pomeroy’s daughter, who was killed in the massacre along with 25 other people before his eyes, never even existed. “Show me her birth certificate”, the man yelled, “show me anything to say she was here.”

Sadly, this incident was not unique. There is a growing army of delusional people out there who believe that every gun massacre or domestic bombing is a “false flag” staged with “crisis actors”. Many of them also believe that astronauts never landed on the moon, that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, that 9-11 was an inside job, that climate change is a hoax, that the holocaust never happened, that Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi, and/or that the earth is flat.

In discussing this massive “stupidification” of America, columnist Leonard Pitts asks exactly what, if anything, one should say to such folks. And the clear answer, as he duly concludes, is nothing. These individuals are utterly beyond reason because of a hopeless mental incapacity — whether due to deficient intelligence, disconnect from reality, intellectual laziness, the tunnel vision of ideological fanaticism or some combination of the above. Until they obtain professional help, or experience a paradigm-shifting cataclysm,  there is nothing anyone can do to convince them that black isn’t really white in disguise.

But there is a more vital question that Pitts neglected to pose. The mentally warped have always been with us. But the phenomenon we are now witnessing is peculiar to contemporary America. No matter how mentally incapacitated people are, there would not be such a mass subscription to the same nutty delusions if those ideas hadn’t been planted in their heads by someone else. For the past three decades, there has been a concentrated campaign to deliberately “stupidify” America for the personal profit of the demagogues doing the brain-planting. And the real question is, should those manipulators be held accountable for their actions?

Many people will maintain (at least in reference to propaganda that supports their own beliefs) that such an exercise would be a violation of First Amendment rights.  Horsefeathers, balderdash, poppycock and codswallop.

Freedom of expression is not absolute. Sometimes “expression” crosses bounds of civilized conduct; and it’s generally easy enough to determine when that occurs. There are laws, for instance, against “free speech” that constitutes slander and libel. It’s difficult in the U.S. to win lawsuits for these offenses, but it isn’t because guilt is hard to establish; on the contrary, it’s usually quite easy. But due to a strained reading of the First Amendment, the American legal system heavily skews such cases toward the defendants (particularly since they’re often individuals of power and prestige).

The usual litmus test for slander and libel is whether the false statements are injurious to the subject’s reputation (which quite often translates to whether it might cause them to lose money somehow). Shouldn’t there be at least as stringent a safeguard against someone being subjected to the kind of emotional cruelty that this minister was?

And what about the possibility of bodily harm and even homicide? There are also laws against “free speech” that incites violence. Remember Pizzagate? That little bit of right-wing lunacy almost got people killed. And the next time, we might not be so lucky. How many lives must be lost before we think it’s justifiable to put a damper on this kind of “freedom of expression”? Libel and slander are punishable by fines.  Inciting to violence is punishable by imprisonment. Pizzagate-type narratives often fall into both categories, in addition to being seditious.

But there are other means of penalizing propaganda without criminalizing it.  Recently, Great Britain barred visits by several American promoters of Pizzagate, white nationalism, and theories about “white genocide”. In refusing them entry, British authorities (quite understandably) designated them as potential troublemakers and a corrupting influence on society. Quite predictably, American reactionary pundits took up the torch for these individuals, calling them “reporters” (they were actually bloggers and trolls) and declaring that they had been refused entry merely for being “conservative”. And needles to say, they invoked the ever-handy straw-filled whipping boy of “political correctness”.

But the transgressions of such people go far beyond merely having or expressing a political viewpoint. Hateful and delusional narratives of the type spewed out by Fox “News” et al are slanderous, seditious, and provocatory. Yet they get away with it all day long, every day. (Bear in mind that this is in the same country where TV personalities can be fined heavily for uttering the f-word on broadcast media even once. ) It’s quite possible that some of the ideologues of Fox and Breitbart and other cesspools actually believe the lies they peddle (see Jones, Alex) — in which case they wouldn’t be guilty of lying themselves. But is that any reason they should be allowed to hawk them with impunity? Should kids be allowed to play with loaded guns just because they imagine them to be light sabers?

Reactionary propaganda is as dishonest as slander or libel — which indeed it often is. It’s as incendiary and dangerous as sedition and incitement — which indeed it often is. Isn’t it time to start treating it as such?

Such a suggestion invariably provokes, especially among Americans, the knee-jerk response that there is something tyrannical and Orwellian about detecting and squelching dishonest and manipulative communication. They declare it to be overstepping by the big bad guvmint that will lead to all kinds of totalitarian consequences. They claim that it reeks of the “thought police”, and of government trying to shut down anyone who has a “dissenting opinion”. But contrary to the official spin in this Age Of Alternative Facts, not all beliefs are created equal. There are clear lines of demarcation between matters of opinion and matters of fact; and while scurrilous opinions may be relatively harmless, scurrilous lies can be very damaging indeed. (There is a middle ground: analysis, which is necessarily subjective. But it’s also clearly distinguishable from mere opinion and belief on one side and blatant falsehood on the other.)

Did we mention that most Americans seem to have no problem with the government imposing six-figure fines for saying “fuck” on TV? They also have no problem with the government regulating vehicle traffic, since the alternative would be chaos, disaster and tragedy. Nor do they object to the government operating a system of criminal justice, since the alternative would be mob rule and vigilantism.  Yet they can’t seem to grasp that propaganda can have consequences just as dire.

Well, let’s humor them and imagine a government crackdown on propaganda extended to its most dystopian extreme. Let’s suppose, first of all, that in instead of, or in addition to, being obsessed with preventing profanity from falling on pristine public ears, the government also took punitive and preventative measures to curb dishonest and defamatory polemic. That would mean, most likely, that Fox, OAN and NRATV among others would close up shop. Oh, the unimaginable horror.

Let’s go even farther and imagine government regulation applied also to social media and the citizenry at large. Imagine, for instance, that Facebook received fines for allowing dishonest and inflammatory memes to be posted. That most likely would prompt Facebook itself to crack down and penalize its users who post such material — by, say, suspending their privilege of use for a few days. And the users, in turn, most likely would start being more conscientious about what they post, and maybe even do some actual research before they hit the Share button. As a result we would end up with a public that is better informed, more cordial to each other, more broadminded, more willing to cooperate with each other, and more prepared to make sound choices at the ballot box. Which is to say it actually would result in a public better equipped to stave off overstepping by the big bad guvmint!

Explain to me exactly how all of this would be such a terrible thing.